SINGAPORE - With less than five months before the SEA Games kick off, newly-installed head coach Sergio Lopez has hit the ground running to prepare his swimmers for the year's major assignment.
The Spaniard, who arrived last Wednesday, conducted his first training, together with assistant coach Gary Tan, for the new national team yesterday and will run double sessions for the rest of the week to familiarise himself with the 23-man squad.
Among those selected, who will form the spine of the locally-based cohort, are multiple Games gold medallist Quah Ting Wen and her brother Zheng Wen, Teo Zheng Ren, Danny Yeo and Russell Ong.
The likes of Tao Li, Darren Lim and Lopez's own protege and Asian Games gold medallist Joseph Schooling are training overseas but will link up with their team-mates closer to the June 5-16 Games.
With their wealth of experience, they will just need fine-tuning in the coming months, instead of a major overhaul, noted the 200m breaststroke bronze medallist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
"We can do some changes but they are not defining changes. These kids have been training at their clubs for a long time," said Lopez, 46, the former head coach and aquatics director at Bolles School in Florida where he groomed Schooling for five years.
"I know I can do some good things but most of these kids are going to win the medals.
"They have already been there or have been very close."
When Singapore last hosted the biennial Games in 1993, the nation's swimmers plundered 12 gold medals.
The Republic returned from the 2013 edition in Myanmar with 11 golds and Lopez is conscious of the need to improve but dismisses the notion that he is under the spotlight to deliver.
"As a coach and as a competitive person, this is what you want. If you are a coach at this level and you don't embrace the pressure, you need to get out."
There is also a desire to instill an intimidation factor within his charges.
Gesturing around the OCBC Aquatic Centre last night, he said: "We need to educate them to make this a home and ensure when the other teams come here, they have some sort of fear because this is our place."
While his orders will be to make their rivals uncomfortable, Lopez was otherwise a reassuring presence at poolside.
Said rising talent Nur Marina Chan, 16: "Sometimes, it can get a bit serious when you talk to a coach but Sergio has a way of telling us something in a light-hearted way.
"And even though today was more about familiarising ourselves with his methods, we were already doing some technical work instead of just swimming laps and he gave me some pointers on my turns."
With the Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships in March as the last SEA Games qualifying window, there is little time to waste.
Said Lopez who has signed a five-year deal: "I will need to set up my training plans by next week as there's a big event for the kids in March.
"But while the SEA Games is our No. 1 priority, my job is to create a programme so that, in 2020, we are one of the best nations in the world."
This article was first published on January 6, 2015.
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