Asians can excel in open-water swimming
Former US national coach Munatones says experience and strategic know-how are key to success
Asians have the size and the mentality to do well in open-water swimming, but may lack the tactical nous and racing experience to do well at the world level at the moment.
That is the view of International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame inductee and former board member of the Fina Technical Open Water Swimming Committee Steven Munatones, who is considered one of the world's leading experts in the aquatic discipline.
Chinese swimmers Zu Lijun and Xin Xin finished fourth in the men and women's 10km swimming event at the Rio Olympics last year, the best performances by Asians in the event since it became an Olympic medal sport in 2008.
However, Munatones - a former world champion and ex-US national open-water swimming coach - believes that China's failure to win a medal in Brazil was down to a lack of strategic know-how.
"I don't think their coach had taught them the exact strategy to win a medal," he told The New Paper on the sidelines of the inaugural Liberty Wave Open Water Swim at East Coast Park yesterday morning.
"I think physically they were capable, but strategically... that part of the sport they haven't understood very well yet."
He added that Asians' cultural emphasis on discipline, and physical attributes bodes well for success in open-water swimming.
"To be good in endurance sports, you need discipline... If you are fundamentally disciplined, it's natural to do a sport that requires that," he said.
But, the lack of racing opportunities in Asia has slowed the growth of elite open-water swimmers in the continent, according to Munatones.
There are some 3,000 open-water races each year, but only "hundreds" are held in Asia.
A case in point - Singapore held its first open-water event in almost 10 years yesterday when 700 people participated at the Liberty Wave Open Water Swim.
The event, supported by Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) sponsor Liberty Insurance, comprised four events for adults, as well as a 100m swim for children aged seven to 12.
SSA president Lee Kok Choy acknowledged the role Liberty played in organising the event.
He pointed out that while marathon swimming is an Olympic sport, it is not offered at the Asian and Commonwealth Games levels, and only occasionally as a SEA Games medal event. Open-water swimming was a medal sport at the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia in August, with Chantal Liew taking a bronze in the women's 10km.
Lee said: "I would say at this point in time that if we see there's talent that we can support, we would do so, but we may not be able to drive it on a very large scale because of resource constraint unless the participation rates are good.
"We will always support it as a mass participation event... but it would need to have sufficient sponsorship interest. Thus we are very grateful for Liberty taking the lead here."
Liberty Insurance Singapore CEO Chang Sucheng said it had been looking to organise a mass participation event for the community, as well as to educate the public about water safety.
The good news for the open-water fraternity here is that the event's future seems promising, with Liberty keen to continue its support.
TNP understands that the organisers may be keen to bring the event to the city area next year, with the aim of growing it into an international event in coming years.
Chang said: "It takes a lot of work to do something like this... (but) given the kind of response we are getting today, I think it would be likely that we would be able to continue this because clearly there's a lot of support in the community."