Five years after Joseph Schooling left for the United States at the age of 14 to chase his dreams in the pool, another of Singapore's brightest swimming prospects is following the same route.
Tan Jing-E, who turns 14 in November, will head for Maryland next week with her parents and two of her three brothers.
She will train at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (NBAC), whose head coach is Bob Bowman, the trainer of 18-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps.
This, after impressing a watching Bowman at last December's NBAC Christmas Meet in Maryland, where she won six of the seven races she swam in.
Her father had written to coaches there asking to see if she could join the club. She was invited to take part in the event so they could assess her potential.
The 1.73m tall swimmer will train in the Challenge One group under Erik Posegay, two tiers below the High Performance One team which includes the likes of Phelps and two-time Olympic gold medallist Yannick Agnel.
Out of the pool, she will study at Roland Park Country School, an independent all-girls college preparatory school. Dad Kenneth said the family will be there for the time being to help his only daughter settle.
Said Jing-E, who holds nine national Under-14 records: "The people at NBAC can hopefully push me on and I am looking forward to a new environment.
"It is not easy leaving Singapore, but it's a sacrifice I have to make for my swimming. It helps that I have my family with me."
The Swimfast Aquatic Club (SAC) member began turning heads last March, when she met the Asian Youth Games (AYG) 100m and 50m butterfly qualifying marks, despite being too young to compete at the quadrennial meet.
Last June, in her competitive debut for Singapore, she won seven golds, smashed three meet records, and was named the top swimmer for her age group at the South-east Asian Age-Group Swimming Championships in Brunei. The former Methodist Girls' School student carried her blistering form into 2014, rewriting three U-14 records in March's Singapore National Age Group Championships.
In fact, her 400m individual medley mark (4min 58.21sec) would have been good enough for a silver at last year's SEA Games, behind Vietnamese sensation Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, 17, who clocked a meet record of 4:46.16.
At the recently-concluded SEA Championships, she bagged two silvers and two bronzes despite being one of the youngest competitors. Jing-E's times this year also hold up when compared to US swimmers in her age group.
She is ranked second-fastest in the 100m back, 100m butterfly, 200m fly, and 400m IM among 13-year-old girls in the country.
The devout Christian credits her coaches at SAC - Wei Yu, Ng Meng Seng, Li Yan, Zhai Yudong, and David Lim - for her development.
She said: "My coaches laid a good foundation, and gave me the confidence to try the difficult events. I also want to thank God for giving me the talent and passion to do well."
Lim believes there is much more to come from his protege, whom he said has good physique, strong family support, and the guts to take on "difficult" events such as races over 200m.
Said the former Olympian: "The environment in the US will allow her to maximise her full potential.
"She is a raw diamond, and it's all down to hard work and good luck from now."
Having narrowly missed out on a SEA Games berth last year, Jing-E hopes to play a part at next year's Singapore SEA Games.
She added: "My dream is to compete at the Olympics. Sometimes I go to sleep thinking about it, and I will keep training hard until I'm there."
This article was first published on June 27, 2014.
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