Singapore Swimming Association Looks Inward in Naming Gary Tan New Coach

Gary Tan; Photo Courtesy: Singapore Swimming Association

Singapore Swimming Association Looks Inward in Naming Gary Tan New Coach

Gary Tan has been named the national swimming coach by the Singapore Swimming Association, the organization announced this week.

Tan, 39, competed in the pool for Singapore. He has been the head coach of the National Training Centre since 2016, helping a generation of swimmers that secured 42 gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games in 2017 and 2019. He was named the Coach of the Year at the 2018 Singapore Sports Awards after swimmers won six medals at that year’s Asian Games.

“Having represented the nation as an athlete, a club coach and a NTC coach, I am living my dream to be able to lead the development of swimming in my home country,” Gary Tan said in an SSA statement. “I am proud to be tasked with the role of continuing the legacy of Singapore’s success in swimming at the major competitions. There will be many challenges ahead but together with my team, I am ready to face them and do my best for Singapore.”

Tan’s appointment reverses a recent trend in hiring foreign coaches. He replaces Stephan Widmer, the Australian who took over in 2017. Sergio Lopez was in charge prior to that, leading the SSA to the Rio Olympics, where his prized pupil Joseph Schooling won gold in the men’s 100 butterfly.

Tan learned under both coaches, and the hope is that he can meld his expertise as a swimmer with that experience.

“We were looking for a candidate that has the technical competence, track record and understanding of Singapore’s competitive swimming eco-system,” SSA president Lee Kok Choy said in the press release. “Gary impressed us the most and displayed that he has gained the expertise after having come under the tutelage of Sergio Lopez and Stephan Widmer in the last seven years. SSA is delighted to have appointed Gary as our new national head coach as we believe that Gary is the best fit amongst all the candidates to influence the NTC and affiliate clubs, to mentor local coaches, to continue to bring forth world class expertise through his connections with leading experts in the world, to adapt and relate to the local swimming ecosystem of athletes, coaches, and clubs, and have a strong burning desire to make Singapore a world class aquatic nation.

“We hope that Gary’s appointment will inspire more local coaches to take up coaching as a profession and follow his pathway to be a world-class high-performance coach in Singapore. Gary’s immediate task as National Head Coach will be to oversee the implementation of the SSA’s long-term plans for swimming high performance following a comprehensive review after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and to navigate challenges surrounding COVID-19.”

The Tokyo Olympics were disappointing for Singapore. Schooling endured a bumpy five years since Rio. He finished 39th in the men’s 100 freestyle and 44th in the 100 fly. Siblings Quah Zheng Wen and Quah Ting Wen fell short of expectations, with Quah Zheng Wen the best finisher, in 22nd in the men’s 100 backstroke and 200 fly.

The Tokyo Games caused the “comprehensive review” that Lee described. That sets the challenge that Tan is inheriting.

“We want to develop and support our swimmers to achieve sustained podium success at Asian, Olympic and World Championships, through good and sustainable investment in the development of our clubs, athletes and coaches,” Tan said. “Knowing the local landscape and struggles that clubs and swim school businesses face during this period, I will reach out to all our affiliates to address their issues and provide adequate help. The success of clubs/swim schools are crucial as they are the backbone of our system and provide the talent pipeline for the national team. We will need to rebuild a core group of swimmers through a system-based approach in both the clubs and the NTC, giving our swimmers access to an elite training environment daily.”