SINGAPORE - She has lost some of her lustre in the last year but with Singapore hosting the Fina Swimming World Cup next week, Tao Li will want to remind her compatriots that she is still a force in the pool.
Once billed as Singapore's top swimmer, the 23-year-old is now fighting her way back to prominence and a good showing will be a stepping stone to more medals down the road.
"I am nearing my best form and hope to peak at next year's Asian Games. I still hope to swim at the 2016 Olympics. The medal dream is still there," she said.
"The World Cup is not a problem for me. I won two silvers (50m and 100m butterfly) in the Singapore leg last year. If I can go under 57 seconds in the 100m butterfly, I will still be happy even if I don't get a medal."
In 2008 in Beijing, the stocky swimmer with broad shoulders powered her way to fifth place in the 100m butterfly final in 57.54sec - the first local to qualify for an Olympic swimming final.
In last year's London Games, she was eliminated in the semis - and did not even survive the heats in the 100m backstroke.
But the butterfly specialist has been in good form at the short-course World Cup this month, winning in Moscow (silver and bronze in 100m and 50m respectively), Dubai (bronze in 100m and silver in 50m) and Doha (silver in 100m). She also set a new personal best in the 50m at the Eindhoven leg of the World Cup in August, clocking 25.43sec.
Singapore Swimming Association technical director and national head coach Ian Turner has praised the swim queen's work ethic, saying: "She is as focused as I have ever seen her. There is a new belief in her that was perhaps missing in 2012.
"Tao Li's attitude is more positive, she arrives promptly at training, there is an air of confidence in her. She revels in hard work, understands the volume of work, the intensity and the distances."
But with SEA Games host Myanmar dropping the 50m butterfly and 50m backstroke - two races in which she is favoured to strike gold - Tao is forced to go prospecting in the 200m races.
She said: "The 200 is a big challenge as I'm not very good at that distance but I will try my best.
"I don't want to go to the SEA Games to aim for silvers and bronzes. I want gold."
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