New national swimming coach plans to build on predecessor Lopez's work

SINGAPORE - Sergio Lopez played a big part behind the scenes as Joseph Schooling stormed to a historic gold medal at the Rio Olympics in August.

And it is the American's work in changing mindsets of local swimmers that Gary Tan wants to build on in his new role as head coach of swimming's National Training Centre (NTC) squad.

The Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) yesterday announced the promotion of Tan - who was assisting Lopez in the national set-up in the lead-up to this year's Olympics - and the 34-year-old believes that there already is a stable platform for him to further develop.

Former head coach Lopez left at the end of August, after watching his one-time protege Schooling win the 100m butterfly in Rio.

"Sergio made a breakthrough just before he left, and I've managed to capitalise on it, and it's this: the kids are a lot more open, they are giving feedback when necessary," said the former Olympian.

He related an anecdote of Quah Zheng Wen standing up at a meeting and calling for swimmers to be accountable, and to start empowering each other to become successful in their own way.

"This kind of mindset… was never seen one and half years ago. I like the fact that we're open now, and senior swimmers are taking a step forward to mentoring the juniors, and they are the ones who came up with that initiative," said Tan, who along with the SSA's technical director Sonya Porter, is taking an open-door approach to building training programmes.

But a feel-good environment alone will not help swimmers climb to the pinnacle like Schooling has.

It will need hard work, and not just that alone, says Tan.

"The belief system is there now that Joseph has done it, but the kids need to understand that it's not just going through the grind… it's going through the grind with everything in place," he said.


"Joseph evolved in the last couple of years, in the way he's thought about his races, and the way he's approached his races."

Tan cited the way Schooling and Quah paid close attention to analytics during this year's Olympics.

He related how the team behind Schooling analysed videos of races in Rio, to figure out just what he needed to do to beat his rivals.

And it could come down to something as precise as calculating the exact number of strokes a swimmer needs to take from start to finish.

Tan will be at poolside focusing on the daily grind of coaching instead of implementing policies and creating pathways for swimmers like Lopez did before him - those responsibilities will now come under the purview of Porter.

Coaches are eventually judged on results, and it is no different for Tan, whose first big assignment will be the South-east Asia Games (SEA) in Kuala Lumpur next year, when his concept of hearts, minds and analytics will be put to the test.

At the last SEA Games, Singapore swimmers managed a record haul of 23 gold medals.

"Whether or not we surpass the number of gold medals, I want to see our swimmers grow.

"We have plans for KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to transition from where Sergio has left off, but we're filling the gaps for now," said Tan, who did not reveal specific targets.

He is already looking to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where the aim is to be represented in both the men and women's relays.

When asked how he would like to be defined, Tan said he wants to be seen as a "caring" coach who can bring success in a sustainable way.

He worked closely with Lopez in the 18 months that the American was here, and acknowledged that he has big shoes to fill. But Tan said: "What's life without challenges?"


Photo: The Straits Times

Joseph Schooling earned the plaudits with his sensational performance at the Olympics, understandably overshadowing Quah Zheng Wen's own historic feat in Rio.

Quah (above) became the first Singaporean man to qualify for an Olympic semi-final, in the 200m butterfly.

He also made the semi-finals of the 100m butterfly, which Schooling won.

The Singapore Swimming Association's (SSA) newly appointed National Training Centre (NTC) squad head coach Gary Tan believes Quah has the potential to win an Olympic medal in 2020.

And Tan will back Quah, whether or not the 20-year-old, who has been granted an extension to defer his National Service, chooses to train at the NTC or abroad.

"For him to get that competitive environment (that he requires), he needs to take a step further and say maybe (going to the) US can be a possibility as well. I think the option is open for him to do that," Tan told the media at the OCBC Aquatic Centre yesterday.

Quah was one of the first swimmers Tan worked with when he started out as a coach.

"I think it's me (who understands him best) and I would give that go-ahead (for him to train in the US) if I felt that was the best decision for him.

"If he stays, we will bring in the competition for him. If he decides to go, we will continue to support him in any way possible."

Some believe Schooling's decision to train in America played a big part in his journey to becoming an Olympic champion, and Tan and the SSA's technical director, Sonya Porter, are making moves to recreate a similar world-class environment at the Singapore Sports Hub's Aquatic Centre.

Tan revealed that the wheels are in motion to engage training partners from US collegiate and club sides, the Australian Institute of Sport and Hungarian teams to come here, as well as to provide avenues for the Singapore team to train in the respective countries.

No deadline has been set for Quah to come to a decision, but Tan believes that the swimmer - who has already resumed training after a post-Olympics break - is training at a "different level" than most in Singapore.

"The sky's the limit for the boy," said Tan.

This article was first published on Nov 05, 2016.
Get The New Paper for more stories.