He was only 15 months into his five-year contract as Singapore swimming's head coach, but Sergio Lopez is leaving to return to the Unites States.
In a shock announcement yesterday, Lopez revealed he will step down at the Rio Olympics in August.
The 47-year-old American, who started work with the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) in January last year, said in a statement: "When I took up this job, it was because it was more than a job; it was a role in which I felt I could make a real difference in.
"I've had a wonderful journey over the past 15 months and garnered much success with the wonderful talents in Singapore.
"However, I have received a good opportunity to move back to the US with my family and made the tough decision to leave my role here and return home."
Swimswam, a leading US swimming website, announced yesterday that Lopez would be joining Auburn University as associate swimming head coach later this year. The university is known to offer generous pay packages.
SSA secretary general Oon Jin Teik said in the statement that the association will "search for world-class expertise that will take us to the next level in our vision".
He added: "We will ensure that there will be minimal, if any, disruptions to our athletes' training progress and development.
"We can count on the outstanding support of our elite-level coaches and officials whom Sergio worked with to guide our programmes and efforts in enhancing capability development."
Assistant national coach Gary Tan, a former Singapore swimmer, could be an option, but The New Paper understands that all options are open, with Lopez pledging to help the SSA in this process.
Lopez broke the news to the National Training Centre (NTC) swimmers yesterday evening, leaving many in shock.
A distraught Quah Ting Wen said: "We've got to know him more this past year and he is more than just a coach to us.
"We have built a relationship with him and it is painful when this relationship is suddenly broken, and not by our own will.
"I've always wanted to train under Sergio and I am happy and grateful that it happened."
Lopez sparked the national swim team to a record 23 golds at last year's SEA Games on home soil, better than the previous mark of 21 golds achieved on home soil at the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games.
One national swimmer said Lopez had to fight hard to put his plans in place.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the swimmer said: "Some days, he would come to training tired and dazed, and sometimes he would tell us a plan, but later say that it was cancelled because it was not approved.
"But I think it's just normal, and part and parcel of how things work here."
Despite quitting, Lopez will still commit himself to preparing Singapore's swimmers for August's Olympics in Rio.
Other than Joseph Schooling, who trains under Eddie Reese in the University of Texas, Quah Zheng Wen is the only other Singapore swimmer who has made the "A" cut, which guarantees him an Olympic spot.
However, swimmers like Ting Wen, Danny Yeo, Lionel Khoo and Amanda Lim have made the "B" cut and will find out after July 3 if they will be in the final squad.
All the swimmers will leave for the US at the end of next month for final Olympic preparations under Lopez, while Tan will oversee the NTC squad as acting head coach, TNP understands.
Said Lopez: "I am very focused on preparing our Singapore team for Rio. I remain committed to achieving the best for our swimmers and for Singapore, the country I've called home the last 15 months.
"I will ensure that my impending departure will not distract the swimmers in any way."
This article was first published on April 30, 2016.
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