New national swim coach Lopez gets down to work
It was his first time working with Singapore's swimmers at a pool yesterday, and new national coach Sergio Lopez was happy enough.
The 46-year-old Spaniard held his first session with 18 swimmers from the National Training Centre squad at the OCBC Aquatic Centre at the Singapore Sports Hub.
Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) vice-president Joscelin Yeo had sent out an invite to 59 carded athletes last month to join the national training squad and 35 applications were received.
The SSA will add 10 more swimmers to the squad next Thursday to make it a 33-strong training team.
Amanda Lim, Darren Chua and Hannah Quek, who are already in the team, will be allowed to train with their clubs for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here in June, the only time swimmers from the outfit will be given this dispensation.
A swimmer's place in the squad will be reviewed every December.
Of his first day with the squad, Lopez said: "It was good, nothing fancy and I was just trying to know the kids.
"We are going to take the next two weeks to set up the system in the sense of understanding their schedules... in the next week I will be talking to their primary coaches to understand what they have done so far."
Lopez, who won a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, is responsible for moulding Joseph Schooling into the star that he is today.
He was coach of the Bolles swim team in Florida, but was successfully wooed by the SSA and signed a five-year deal last year to be Singapore's head coach.
Lopez's squad are more than twice the size of the previous centralised squad under former national coach Ian Turner, who stepped down last year due to poor health.
Lionel Khoo and Russell Ong were absent with apologies yesterday.
Those who did turn up trained from 5.30am to 7.30am and from 4pm to 6.30pm, with the afternoon session beginning with a 45-minute meeting.
Freestyle sprint star Danny Yeo, 24, who's also trained under Turner's squad, said: "It's just the first two training sessions, so it's hard to tell the difference, but there are definitely more swimmers now.
"Having more of the country's best swimmers training together will motivate me to train even harder towards the SEA Games."
While he says he has to make a few tweaks to the squad in preparation for the biennial SEA Games, Lopez readily acknowledges that the swimmers' own club coaches must get all the credit for any medals won in the region's most prestigious multi-sport event.
Said Lopez: "I am just the catalyst... putting the team together and motivating the kids to really understand what it is to be part of that (the SEA Games).
"We need to make sure that we educate our kids to really make this (the OCBC Aquatic Centre) our home, and make sure that when the other teams come here they have some sort of fear, because this is our place.
"The target is to have more medals than the previous SEA Games."
SWIMMERS ALREADY IN THE NATIONAL TRAINING CENTRE SQUAD
- Swimfast Aquatic Club: Francis Fong, Samuel Khoo, Dylan Koo, Russell Ong, Pang Sheng Jun, Quah Zheng Wen, Teo Zhen Ren, Lionel Khoo, Darren Chua*, Nur Marina Chan, Roanne Ho, Quah Jing Wen, Quah Ting Wen, Amanda Lim*, Hannah Quek*
- Aquatic Performance Swim Club: Brilliant Chua, Danny Yeo, Rachel Majorie Tseng
- Singapore Swimming Club: Christopher Cheong, Chloe Wang
- Chinese Swimming Club: Cheryl Lim
- Ace Swim Club: Nicholle Toh
- Singapore Island Country Club: Cherlyn Yeoh
* denotes swimmers who will train with their clubs till after the SEA Games
Lopez's aim: Turn Singapore into one of the best swimming nations by 2020
The 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games is just six months away, but national swimming coach Sergio Lopez is assembling a centralised a training squad for assignments well into the future.
In the squad are youngsters like Cherlyn Yeoh, Nicholle Toh (both 13 years old), Francis Fong, Darren Chua, Quah Jing Wen and Hannah Quek (all 14).
Said the Spaniard: "The most important thing for Singapore now is this year's SEA Games, and that is big (on home soil).
"But my job is to create a programme such that in 2020 we can be one of the best nations in the world."
He is still trying to understand the local culture before introducing any elements from his highly-successful Bolles School programme here.
The 1988 Olympic bronze medallist said: "In the long term I have a plan to meet with the club coaches and see how I can help them or be a resource for them. We are not here to take the kids away from the clubs, we are here to enhance Singapore swimming."
He hopes to nurture an environment where clubs vie with each other to produce the best swimmers for the national training squad, while still representing their clubs for meets.
Ultimately, he wants to cultivate that can-do spirit which he embodied when he transformed his "average" talent into Olympic success.
He said: "The most important part of my coaching philosophy is to make the kids understand that nothing is impossible.
"If a kid comes up to me and tells me that he wants to be an Olympic champion, I'd go, 'let's go, let's do it'."