Swimming for greatness

Swimming for greatness

IN 2012, when Michael Phelps was three medals shy of becoming the most decorated Olympian, he said: "It's kind of cool if there is a possibility to rewrite history and be up there with the greats of Olympic history."

Singapore's swimmers must find it pretty cool too - because history is there for the taking, starting tonight at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Expected to retain Singapore's position as the top swimming nation in South-east Asia, Joseph Schooling and Co boast enough talent to do that - and more.

With 38 golds on offer, the Class of 2015 could stake their claim as the greatest SEA Games swim team of all time should they match - or eclipse - the record 21-gold harvest of 1973. Granted, that came at the South-east Asian Peninsular Games, the precursor to the SEA Games, when current contenders Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam did not feature.

Former national swimmer and Olympian David Lim believes the mark is within reach.

He said: "I think 18 golds is a realistic target. So you're three short. And in every meet, you need a bit of luck. The fact that it is a home Games could make that bit of difference."

The closest Singapore's swimmers got to the mark was in 2011 when they bagged 17 of 38 golds. In 2013, they took 11 of 32 golds.

Thailand, who finished second with seven golds, and Indonesia, who were third with five, are expected to challenge Singapore's dominance once more.

Vietnam's Youth Olympic Games champion Nguyen Thi Anh Vien is expected to dominate the women's events, especially the middle- to long-distance races.

But for Singapore, the signs post-2013 are promising. The past year has seen Joseph Schooling transform from talented teen to bona fide star. Quah Zheng Wen, too, has blossomed, setting three national records this year.

Both men have also expanded their repertoire to include the freestyle, which could contribute to the medal tally.

On the women's side, there is feisty Tao Li, a proven performer with two Asian Games golds, and Quah Ting Wen, who won five golds at the 2009 SEA Games.

Team honours aside, Schooling, Quah and Anh Vien, entered in nine, 12, and 13 events respectively, are also locked in an intriguing battle for supremacy.

Schooling's coach at the University of Texas Eddie Reese, a three-time head coach of the United States' men's Olympic team, gave an insight on what to expect from his protege. He said: "Joseph's the most talented swimmer I've coached, and I've seen a lot. We haven't seen anything close to his best yet. He's got some goals he wants to reach (at the SEA Games), and he'll definitely reach them."

Schooling said: "I'm not going in thinking about what-ifs. I'm fitter and stronger than I was last year, I'm really excited, and I hope I can do as well as what everyone else wants me to do."

Both national coach Sergio Lopez and his assistant Gary Tan have so far been tight-lipped about their medal targets.

Maybe they are right to do so, for a swimmer once said: "You can't put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get."

Again, that swimmer was Phelps, who became the most bemedalled Olympic athlete after the 2012 London Olympics with 22 medals. And counting.

siangyee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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