National coach Widmer challenges swimmers to 'dream big'
National coach tells younger ones to show 'no fear' and push the seniors hard
Singapore's swimmers splashed their way to eight national records and 10 SEA Games records at the National Aquatic Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
The feats were accomplished mostly by the veteran swimmers in the squad, but that shouldn't stop the younger swimmers from "dreaming big", said national head coach Stephan Widmer yesterday.
"We need pressure from below - we need the young ones not to fear the older ones," the Australian, who arrived on June 30 to take up the top post, told reporters at Changi Airport upon the team's return from Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
"It's a combination of the established swimmers and the rookies - that's the kind of balance you want to have.
"You want the ones who have performed in the past to perform again, and you want the young ones to push them hard, challenge them and make them uncomfortable.
"Dream bigger, believe more and work harder - that's what we have to do as a nation."
Dream bigger, believe more and work harder - that's what we have to do as a nation.National head coach Stephan Widmer
Of the Republic's 27-strong swim contingent, 10 made their SEA Games debuts and three of them returned home with medals.
Teong Tzen Wei, 20, delivered a shock victory in the men's 50m freestyle with a time of 22.55 seconds, just 0.08sec off Joseph Schooling's national record.
Francis Fong, 17, took home a bronze and silver in the men's 100m and 200m backstroke respectively while Gan Ching Hwee, the Republic's youngest swimmer at these Games at 14, won a bronze medal in the women's 400m individual medley.
Competing in her second SEA Games, Quah Jing Wen, 16, won five gold medals - the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay.
Senior swimmer Quah Ting Wen, 25, told The New Paper: "Usually, people do better in meets held on home ground... It goes to show that the talent is there - we are a developed country and we have the resources to help the athletes grow."
At the 2015 SEA Games on home soil, Singapore's 29 swimmers accounted for 23 gold, 12 silver and seven bronze medals.
Though the team's haul of 19 gold, six silver and nine bronze medals this year is slightly lower, it ties the previous best away tallies from the 1969 and 1971 South-east Asian Peninsular Games.
It is worth noting that the Republic swept all six relays for the second consecutive Games.
Widmer, 50, who groomed Australia's top female sprinters such as Libby Trickett, Leisel Jones and Jessicah Schipper, challenged his swimmers to get to the "next level".
"There's always a next level - nothing can shy away from hard work and commitment," he said.
"I've trained swimmers who've won gold medals and set world records and, when we came back from meets, we said, 'Okay, what's the next step? We have to improve'."
Widmer was pleased to see with how well the team bonded in Kuala Lumpur and was impressed with the structure of the national set-up, which he said would be a good base for him to "add to Singapore swimming".
"I saw a team behind the scenes. The coaches were working really well together, and I saw a team of support staff who really made the difference," said Widmer.
"The athletes were lining up with each other, for each other... That is a great way to start."
For Ting Wen, who competed in her sixth Games, the true meaning of "team" hit home when she noticed Timor Leste's lone representative in the warm-up pool before a race with her coach sitting by the poolside, staring off into the distance.
That poignant image stuck with Quah, who had 26 teammates by her side and was supported by a team of coaching staff, psychologist, nutritionist and physiologist.
"Many people see swimming as an individual sport but, to be at such big meets by yourself can be very intimidating," she said.
"One thing the young ones (in the team) can learn is to appreciate being part of the team."