Things going swimmingly

Regional butterfly queen Tao Li receiving her female Athlete of the Year (Swimming) award from Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu. The 26-year-old intends to retire in two years after the Asian Games.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

On a night when two of Singapore's most celebrated swimmers responsible for the country's biggest achievements in the international arena were lauded for their achievements in 2015, national coach Sergio Lopez assured that the future of local swimming will remain bright.

Yesterday evening, national swim stars Joseph Schooling and Tao Li were honoured by the Singapore Swimming Association, at its awards and appreciation night at the Shangri-La Hotel, with the male and female Athlete of the Year (Swimming) award respectively .

Schooling, 20, swept all nine of his events at the SEA Games at home last June, and won Singapore's first-ever medal at the Fina World Swimming Championships last August. Likewise, Tao clinched golds in all five events she had entered at the SEA Games.

But while Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen - the only swimmers so far to have made the Olympic 'A' mark - leads the male pack, there is a gap in the female ranks after butterfly specialist Tao decided to put elite training aside for now as she focuses on her new swim school and studies.

But Lopez dismissed concerns of a lack of female swimmers of her calibre, and he is confident that a next Tao Li will arise from a promising crop of youngsters.

He noted: "We have a stable batch of young (under-17) swimmers like (Hoong) En Qi, (Quah) Jing Wen. And even the older ones like Amanda (Lim), (Quah) Ting Wen and Roanne Ho, they are clocking faster times than before.

"I don't care about the deficiencies we've had in the past. Joseph's (success) didn't happen in two days.

"When you look at the world's top 10 female swimmers, you won't find many youngsters below 25. So I believe we have enough talent right now such that by the next Olympics, they're going to be at their prime."

One of Asia's most established butterfly sprinters, Tao is a two-time Asian Games gold medallist and became the first Singaporean swimmer to make an Olympic final in 2008.

While the 26-year-old agreed that there is no local female swimmer good enough to win an Asiad gold for now, she is hopeful that her successor will come sooner or later.

She said: "I hope that even if I am not swimming, there'll always be someone up there."

And she chirped: "Maybe it's time I groom one."

Besides running her swim school, which currently have 50 children between the ages of five and 11, Tao attends classes four times a week for her business management course at the Singapore Institute of Management-RMIT.

But she is not done with competition yet. The relaxed and jovial swimmer is targeting a comeback in the pool following the completion of her studies in November.

She wants a final hurrah at the 2018 Asian Games, where she said it will be her last competition before rounding up a glittering career.

Tao said: "It's time for a change in career and to let the young swimmers grow. I think that (2018 Asian Games) will be my last one and then it's time for me to step down."


This article was first published on April 24, 2016.
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