Coaches at the helm: Part 1
Singapore has spared no effort to bring in the very best to guide its athletes to glory at this South-east Asia Games.
The New Paper speaks to some of the world-class coaches in our midst.
Report by Redzwan Kamarudin and David Lee
National swimming coach
He is the man who coached current swim wonder-boy Joseph Schooling to a silver at the 100m butterfly at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and he has produced the likes of 2011 World Junior Championships backstroke medallist Ryan Murphy.
Lopez was appointed head swim coach at the end of last year.
He said: “I want to be able to help Singapore swimming reach the highest level possible, and create an atmosphere of success that will help the community grow from the grassroots level to the highest level.
“It is a great challenge to do that, but I believe that I can help Singapore reach another level, and think to be the best at the Olympic level.”
He added that his family was also a big motivation that brought him to these shores.
“This is an opportunity for my wife and children to experience a totally different culture, and for my daughter and son, an opportunity to grow and gain certain life skills that this new experience will provide them.”
Under the Spaniard’s tutelage, Schooling also won the gold medal in the 100m butterfly event at last year’s Asian Games in Incheon.
Lopez, who won a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke event at the 1988 Olympics, is only half a year into the job, but he is already dreaming big for
Singapore’s swimmers at the OCBC Aquatic Centre during the SEA Games.
He said: “I would like to see two Singapore flags at every swim medal ceremony and hopefully, listen to the Majulah Singapura as many times as possible during the six days of competition.”
National foil coach
Recruited to help nurture a stronger fencing culture and improve the standard of the sport in the Republic, former Olympian Simon Senft joined Fencing Singapore in 2012.
The 32-year-old led the men’s team and women’s team to a bronze and silver medal respectively at the team foil events the last time fencing was held at the SEA Games, in Jakarta four years ago.
Senft said: “I want to help Singapore improve in fencing, and give my knowledge about fencing to make Singapore stronger. There is a lot of potential here, and with the right athletes like I have now, I believe that Singapore can be very successful in this sport.”
The German had previously competed in the team foil event at the 2004 Olympics, and also won the gold medal at the same event at the 2003 European Fencing Championships.
When asked of the targets for the upcoming SEA Games, he said: “My target at the Games is for us to fence four great competitions (men’s and women’s individual and team foil).
“I’m preparing my athletes to be the best they can be, so they can win the gold medal on their own home soil.
“Fencing is unpredictable, but of course as a coach you always wish that your athletes are standing on top of the podium at the end of the event.”
National sprints coach
He was Portugal’s national sprints coach for 11 years, and became Singapore’s head coach for sprints and hurdles last November.
“I’ve been deeply involved in sports for more than 35 years,” he said.
“I’ve been in different roles — an athlete, a coach, researcher, academic, and manager. I love being in sports, so I couldn’t lose this chance.
“The Singapore government has fully endorsed and invested in sports, just look at the highly qualified support staff and coaches and the state-of-the-art Sports Hub. All these can definitely help to better the sports standards in Singapore.”
The Lisbon native, a former Portuguese sprinter who competed in the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, has a chance to help the Republic’s sprinters finally win the elusive gold medal.
The last two editions of the biennial games saw the Singapore men’s 4x100m relay team narrowly miss out on the gold to Indonesia in 2011, and to Thailand in 2013.
While he declined to reveal any medal targets for the SEA Games, Cunha stressed that his job is to help his athletes achieve the best results.
He added: “I’m here to support and assist the national athletes to achieve their goals. I want them to perform their season bests, break national records, and hopefully, be a medallist and even champion during the games.”