Widmer: 'If we stand still, people will pass us'
New head coach and performance director Widmer confident of taking S'pore swimming to the next level
Singapore has the advantage of "The Schooling Effect", but it must do things the right way.
That was the message by Stephan Widmer, the new national head coach and performance director of the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA), during his official unveiling at a press conference yesterday.
The Swiss-Australian started work here last Monday, joining on a three-and-a-half-year contract from Swimming Australia, where he was head coach of Queensland.
While Widmer has never met Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, he referenced the 22-year-old several times in his address to the media.
For example, Widmer quipped he would take 50.39 seconds - Schooling's winning time in the 100m fly at last year's Rio Olympics - to introduce his background to the press.
He also mentioned "The Schooling Effect", comparing Schooling's gold medal at the Olympics to Laure Manaudou's first women's swimming gold medal for France at the Athens Games in 2004.
France has since won seven other gold medals in the three subsequent Olympics.
But while Schooling's milestone vindicated the decision by the authorities to allow him to defer his National Service (NS) commitments, Widmer said he intends to "respect" the protocol in granting deferments to elite athletes.
Said the 50-year-old coach: "Each sport has to earn the right, through good planning and implementation of processes.
"But each sport has to understand, if you don't respect that (privilege), you lose it very quickly. And I have no problem with that.
"If you just want to play the card the wrong way, purposely, and you just want to benefit in the short term, that can't work.
"So we have to be good at planning, be specific about individuals who we feel we would like to defer, and see what comes from that."
Mandatory military conscription was just one similarity Widmer, who was a telecommunications officer in the Swiss Air Force, noted between his native Switzerland and Singapore.
The pursuit of academic excellence was another he pointed out.
Throughout his 15-minute address, it was clear Widmer's focus is in developing the standard of local coaching in Singapore.
Asked what he felt is his most important task, he replied: "My No. 1 priority? To work with coaches, engage them, and (take) them to another level.
"My No. 1 goal as a coach was to improve myself - I got back from a competition winning a gold medal at the Worlds or Olympics, and the first thing I wanted to do was improve myself.
"I don't want the coaches to take this as (me saying they're) not good enough. It is not an attack on them.
"If we don't move forward, we will be passed backwards. We stand still, people will pass us."
Widmer is widely regarded as one of the top names in world swimming, and has coached several Olympic champions, such Libby Trickett, Leisel Jones and Jessicah Schipper.
A total of 20 world records and 16 world championship titles have come from his stable of swimmers.
SSA president Lee Kok Choy was delighted with Widmer's arrival, hailing him as the "last piece of the puzzle" in the swimming body's long-term plan.
SSA vice-president (swimming) Joscelin Yeo also said: "Stephan is a coach of coaches.
"The value-add from him to come in and mentor the coaches that we have... and helping bring things into a system that enables our coaches to be successful and see their role as a professional one, will enable us from high performance all the way down to the lower chain."