Swimming: American trains in Singapore to exorcise demons of 2012

Whenever Kevin Cordes hits the water in training, his mind flashes back to that moment on June 26, 2012, when he touched the wall in the men's 100m breaststroke final at the US Olympic trials at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.

He clocked 1min 00.58sec to finish third, behind Brendan Hansen and Eric Shanteau, and missed out on a ticket to the London Olympics later that year.

Only the top two finishers in each event made the US swim team for the Games, and Cordes lost out to Shanteau for the second spot by 0.43 seconds.

Now 21, Cordes said: "I use that in practice as motivation every day. I definitely don't want that to happen to me again."

The US is the most powerful nation in swimming and swimmers all over the world flock there every year to train.

There are a whole host of international hopefuls in various US university swimming programmes there right now - like Singapore's Joseph Schooling at the University of Texas - or training with any one of the numerous world-class coaches in the country as they work towards the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, from July 24 to Aug 9, and the Rio Olympics next year, but Cordes has surprisingly bucked the trend.

He is now based in Singapore training under the country's national swimming coach, Sergio Lopez.

It was not as though the 1.96m-tall swimmer was short of options, as the University of Arizona graduate was the 2013 National Collegiate Athletic Association Swimmer of the Year and a six-time collegiate national champion.

"After college, I went home and spent some time to think about what my next move should be," he said yesterday.

"I realised the next year (2015), going into 2016, is extremely important and I wanted to take it seriously," explained Cordes, who graduated earlier this year.

He spoke with a few friends and got in touch with Lopez, with whom he felt most comfortable with.

Cordes said: "We kind of hit it off; I believe in him and he believes in me, and one thing he told me was that there are no ordinary moments if you take a chance.

"That's what I am doing here and I couldn't be happier."

Lopez, 46, was pleasantly surprised over Cordes' approach, and vowed he would do his best to help the American achieve his Olympic dream while not shortchanging Singapore's swimmers.

The former Bolles School coach, who launched Schooling's rise into a world-class swimmer, said: "We are not looking to have many (foreign) swimmers join our programme. We might take in one or two more, but our job is to raise the level of Singapore swimming, and this will not be a programme where our kids will be overshadowed."

While the US swimming scene splits its training and competition focus between short-course yards and long-course metres over a year, Cordes will be able to focus solely on the latter.

Clocking the hours and mileage in long-course metres will be crucial as major international competitions like the upcoming world championships and Olympics use the format.

The fact that Lopez was a former breaststroke specialist - he won the bronze in the men's 200m event at the 1988 Olympics for Spain - helped Cordes make up his mind to relocate here.

While Cordes arrived here on June 12, he has already made some headway.

At the Neo Garden Singapore National Swimming Championships at the OCBC Aquatic Centre over the weekend, he clocked 27.54sec, 1min 00.27sec and 2:11.97 in the 50m, 100m, and 200m breaststroke, respectively.

It placed him 15th, 14th and 31st, respectively, in the world this year in each event.

Cordes is aiming big at the world championships, where he will compete in the men's 50m and 200m breaststroke, and the Olympics next year.

He said: "I am definitely going out there to compete, and to do everything in my power to win."

This article was first published on June 30, 2015.
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