The mastermind behind Singapore’s record-breaking success in swimming at the 28th SEA Games is still not satisfied.
Sergio Lopez had just seen his team win a record 23 gold medals. The Singapore flag was raised 42 times in total at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and everyone wanted to congratulate Lopez.
Swimming - Men’s 200m Individual Medley - Final - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (C) and his wife Ho Ching pose for a photo with Singapore athletes and staff after the medal ceremony. Photo: SINGSOC
The Spaniard was proud of what his young team had achieved and he told them so. Seeing the beaming smiles on their faces was his reward. But he was still not content.
The nature of coaching is that no-one ever rests on their laurels. As soon as one goal is achieved, another is set. Instead of looking at what went right, coaches look for what went wrong, to find any areas they can improve on to find those tiny fractions that can be the difference between winning and losing.
As Lopez surveyed the scene around him, he was already plotting his next challenge – how to replicate that success on the world stage.
"If I came here just to shine in Southeast Asia, then I think I'm in the wrong job," he said. "My job is to achieve excellence at the highest level possible.
"And hopefully we're going to shine sooner than we want at the Olympic level.
"We're a small country, five million people, but I want to make everyone know that if we work together we can be one of the best small countries in the world.”
Lopez won a bronze medal in the 200 metres breaststroke at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and has coached dozens of the world’s best swimmers in his previous job in the United States, at one of America’s best academies.
It was there that he met Joseph Schooling and saw first-hand the talent and work ethic Singaporeans have. Late last year, he signed a five-year deal to come to Singapore and take over the running of the national team.
Swimming - Men's 200m Butterfly - Final - Singapore's Joseph Schooling in action. Photo: SINGSOC
In the short time he has been in charge, Singapore's swimmers have shown a quick improvement. While Schooling grabbed all the headlines at the SEA Games by winning nine gold medals, it was the overall performance of the team that pleased Lopez the most.
Quah Zheng Wen won seven gold medals, Tao Li won five, Quah's sister Ting Wen won four, as did Amanda Lim. More importantly, won all six relays, a clear sign of the depth in the squad.
Women's 4x200m Freestyle Relay - Final - Singapore's Chue Mun Ee Christie May (C), Amanda Lim Xiang Qi (R) and Tseng Wei Wen Rachel encourage teammate Quah Zheng Wen on the final lap. Photo: SINGSOC
“I'm very happy, not just because of the 23 medals,” Lopez said. “I think the 23 medals is something good for the country and it's something we can build on.
“I'm very happy because of the shifting mindset we've been able to create within our team.
"The kids in Singapore are really hungry to be good. They already have excellence in school education... and now that have a chance to be excellent in something they are passionate about."
Lopez said he was proud of Schooling for the way he conducted himself over the competition and thinks he has the potential to win a medal at the world championships or Olympics.
“For him to come in, not fully rested and make a statement, I take my hat off to him,” Lopez said.
“People are looking for leaders, and we have many leaders in our team, but I think he's one of the ones that everyone knows.
“He has the potential, he has the mindset. But there's many people who have the same mindset and potential and it's just a matter of what's going to happen in the next 14 months. With a bit of luck he can win a medal.”
Lopez is also excited about the rest of the team and thinks it won’t be long until the next wave of young, talented swimmers start leaving their mark at global level.
"We already have the possibility of people thinking about medals and the possibility of making finals," he said.
"We're right there. The door is open for us. We have a lot of kids that have the talent.
"There's a lot of possibilities but can't get ahead of ourselves, we just have to work hard everyday and believe."