SINGAPORE - She was unbeatable in the women's 200m butterfly at four previous South-east Asia (SEA) Games, but could only struggle to a bronze this year in Myanmar.
She won four golds at this year's Games - the 100m backstroke, 100m butterfly, 4x200m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay - compared to the seven she hauled in two years ago in Palembang, Indonesia.
But Tao Li is satisfied.
And Singapore's only Olympic swimming finalist will now chart a course towards a "three-peat" in the women's 50m fly in her final Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, next year.
Speaking to The New Paper after touching down at Changi Airport Terminal 2 early yesterday morning, Tao Li said: "I felt I did pretty well at the SEA Games, and I am hoping for my third consecutive gold medal in the 50m fly at my last Asian Games next year.
"I am only third (behind China's Lu Ying and Japan's Yuka Kato) in the event this season and I'm confident of doing well in South Korea next year, as well as the 2015 SEA Games here.
"I am willing to do everything I can to do well."
Next year's Asiad will be held in Incheon from Sept 19 to Oct 4, and the 23-year-old will look to defend the women's 50m fly title she won in 2006 and 2010.
She also bagged a bronze and silver in the 100m fly in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
Ahead of her Asian Games bid, she plans to train in Hubei next month, and will then do aerobic work at high-altitude in Kunming with the provincial team the following month.
She will then compete in the Asian Games time trials in March, before jetting off to Australia to train for another three months.
One potential snag for the swimmer, who finished fifth in the 100 fly at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is funding.
While Tao Li is among the first 66 recipients of the Sports Excellence (Spex) Scholarship, the associated funding for her high-performance training will not start till February next year.
When contacted yesterday, Singapore Swimming Association president Jeffrey Leow said: "Generally speaking, we don't fund swimmers for their overseas training stints because we don't have the money. "There is a new funding framework for high-performance, in the Spex Scholarship, and we are only starting in February... Tao Li will have to raise her own funds until then."
So determined is Tao Li to get into peak condition for the 2014 Asiad that she is willing to pay for the expenses, although she would like to be compensated later.
"I am willing to pay out of my own pocket first, if I can be reimbursed later, but I am not too sure if I can do that," she said.
She was famously averse to lengthy overseas training stints, but this time, the butterfly sprint specialist is determined and putting together a training plan that will see her based overseas for the first six months of 2014.
"In the past, I hadn't been able to go for lengthy training stints overseas mainly because of my studies," said the stocky swimmer, who trained under well-known Chinese coach Fu Wei in Hubei for about a month in May this year.
"Now that I have stopped school for the time being to concentrate on my swimming, I'll have more time to go abroad to experience new training methods and environments," added the Singapore Institute of Management business undergraduate.
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