Lopez: Schooling can create Olympic history
National coach Lopez says last year's world bronze makes Schooling a legitimate contender
There are 20 days to go to the opening of the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the swimming programme will possibly generate as much electricity as the 2008 Beijing Games, once again because of Michael Phelps.
In 2008, the American stormed to a record eight gold medals and, in Rio, he will call time on his magnificent career by looking to add to his astonishing haul of 18 Olympic golds and 22 in all.
Singapore swimming is also abuzz with excitement, despite fielding only three athletes for this year's Olympic Games.
Joseph Schooling, 21, is gunning for a historic first swimming medal for Singapore, Quah Zheng Wen, 19, is talking about making the semi-finals or even a final, and sister Quah Ting Wen, 23, is bummed that she's had to rely on a universality place to get a ticket after failing to make the 'A' cut.
The biggest excitement surrounds Schooling, obviously, and national coach Sergio Lopez believes he can deliver a medal.
In a phone interview from Paraguay, where the Quahs are in the midst of the final build-up towards the swimming competition that starts on Aug 6, Lopez said: "Joe can medal in the 100m butterfly.
"When I went to the 1988 Olympics as the ninth-fastest 200m breaststroke swimmer and ended up winning bronze, people thought it was a miracle, but I believed I could do it.
"Joe has proven himself by winning bronze in the 100m butterfly at the World Championships last year, so he has a legitimate chance to medal at the Olympics the same way the top guys like Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos, Laszlo Cseh and Konrad Czerniak do."
Before heading to Paraguay, 10 national swimmers, including the Quahs, were training and competing in Indianapolis and Florida since the end of May.
Schooling joined the national squad in Florida for three weeks before returning to Texas to train under his American coach, Eddie Reese.
Lopez said: "We have worked a lot since last September. We taper, work on the details, get as much speed out, turns, visualisation, be as rested and be in the best shape possible.
"We have trained in a relaxed environment. Being here together, being relaxed, it really makes them stronger.
"There's not much distraction. It's a good environment, and being in a good group makes them stronger."
Schooling will definitely swim the 100m butterfly, but will make a late decision on whether to go in the 100m freestyle or 200m butterfly.
Zheng Wen will swim the 100m backstroke and 100m and 200m butterfly, while Ting Wen will compete in the 100m butterfly.
While most of the attention will be on Schooling's medal charge, the progress Zheng Wen has made must not be overlooked.
ON A ROLL
After bagging a record 12 medals over all four strokes at last year's SEA Games, the backstroke specialist won two silvers and five bronzes from Fina's World Cup series and won gold in the men's 200m butterfly at the Indianapolis Arena Pro Swim last month.
Tipped by Lopez as a surprise package in Rio, as well as a medal contender for the 2020 Olympics, Zheng Wen said: "It's hard to define me by a certain stroke.
"I was stronger in the backstroke when I was younger because I had a natural flair for it and I like the backstroke more.
"But going into these Olympics, I've had more preparation for the butterfly and I'm comfortable with either stroke.
"I'm focused on doing well at these Olympics trying to go for a top 16 or top eight."
One of the initiatives the Singapore Swimming Association implemented after Lopez arrived in 2015 was the Foreign Athlete Sparring Programme.
Americans Kevin Cordes and Micah Lawrence, South African Michael Myers and Rex Tullius from the Virgin Islands - all former or soon-to-be Olympians - spent considerable time in Singapore training with Lopez and sparring against local swimmers.
Said Lopez: "They see swimming at a high level in a different way.
"It is not a scary thought any more to think that you can be in the final of the Olympics or even to win a medal."
Ting Wen added: "The mindset has changed. We are not going for the experience anymore.
"We want to race and compete with the best and see how far we can go among the best in the sport."
"The mindset has changed. We are not going for the experience any more. We want to race and compete with the best and see how far we can go among the best in the sport."
- Quah Ting Wen