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AG2018: Behind the swimming team’s success

05 September 2018
By Lee Yaocheng

 

Two golds, one silver and three bronzes. One Asian Games record set and seven national records broken. Team Singapore’s achievements in the pool at the 2018 Asian Games have been remarkable, and have made swimming Singapore’s best performing sport in Indonesia.

The swimmers certainly had an outstanding outing at this year’s Asiad, but they did not do it all on their own.

It’s always the athletes though, who if successful in their endeavors, receive the plaudits. They get to stand on the podium and are lauded for their achievements. Stories about them are published in the media and photos of them featured everywhere.

The athletes get all the glory, but as the old adage goes: “No man is an island.” Success would not have been possible without the support team working quietly behind the scenes.

They are usually neither seen nor heard, but their contribution to the swimming team’s success cannot be underestimated.

Nutritionists

Average men and women require somewhere between 2000 to 2500 calories per day. For top athletes, however, that is nowhere near enough. They not only have a much higher caloric requirement, they also need much more protein to help their muscles recover from their physically punishing routines.

It’s the job of sport nutritionists and dieticians such as Dr Richard Swinbourne to ensure that all athletes are well-nourished so they can perform optimally.

 

roanne hoTeam Singapore swimmer Roanne Ho. Photo: Sport Singapore

 

Roanne Ho, who won a silver in the women’s 50m breaststroke event, was grateful for the help she received from everyone in the support team and highlighted nutritionist Dr Swinbourne as one such person who played a role in helping her make the podium.

“I work very closely with Richard the nutritionist. He always checks my fat percentage to muscle percentage to make sure everything is in check,” said the 25-yer-old, who as a sprinter needs to maintain a good muscle to fat ratio.

“Sometimes when I realized I have gained weight but my muscle percentage is still the same he will make me write down what I’ve been eating and then he will assess and see what I should be swapping out instead.”

“Also, if I want to start on a new supplement because I read about it, he will tell me whether it is advisable to take it or not, and he will also tell me whether it’s approved by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).”

Spex scholar Darren Chua, who won two bronze medals in Jakarta, also found Richard’s help to be invaluable.

“He has been helping me not only with what and how much I need to eat but also helping me get better sleeps and better rest,” he said.

“After every race I had, he would help make me a drink for recovery and feed me with all the recovery food that I need while I’m cooling down.”

Psychologists

It’s not enough to just keep the swimmers in peak condition physically though. They also need to be in the right frame of mind. As every athlete will attest, the mental aspect is just as important as the physical one.

As the world’s second largest sporting competition, even seasoned professionals would feel nerves competing in the Asian Games.

 

Team Singapore swimmer Gan Ching Hwee Gan Ching Hwee made her debut at the Asian Games. Photo: Sport Singapore

 

For 15-year-old Gan Ching Hwee, who broke the national record in the women’s 1500m freestyle event with a time of 16min 39.70sec, making her debut on such a big stage was no easy task. Especially when facing more experienced swimmers from China and Japan.

Team Singapore’s youngest athlete at the Asiad had her psychologist from National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI) to thank for keeping her focused throughout the competition.

“My psychologist Shermaine from NYSI helped me a lot through this journey. She actually taught me cue words, visualizations and a lot of things to boost my confidence and get ready for the competition,” she said.

“I need to keep telling myself to focus because I get distracted very easily, especially in such a long meet like this.”

Athletes Services and Academics

As many swimmers in the current national team are young and still in school, it would an insurmountable task for them to strike a balance between academics and sports without the help of people like Beena Doshi.

Beena, who works as a counselor in Singapore Sports Institute's (SSI) Athletes Services Department, has made it possible for these students to compete at the top level internationally, while not neglecting their studies.

Swimming head coach Gary Tan was fully appreciative of the work she has done for the swimming team.

“She has played an integral role. People like Jonathan Tan and Darren Chua would never be able to be here if not for what she has done with them on educational side.”

 

darren chuaDarren Chua in action during the Games. Photo: Sport Singapore

 

“She’s gone down to the schools to help defer their exams, to help them take a longer trajectory to graduate. Just 10 years ago, we didn’t have that support. The fact that Darren Chua can take his time to study means a lot for us because he’s taken such large strides and made great changes here and I’m actually amazed to see the way he’s been swimming now.”

In a country where heavy focus is placed on academic success, Temasek Polytechnic student Darren Chua said she was essential in helping him juggle between being a full-time student and national athlete.

“She has been helping me keep on track for both my swimming training and studies so that I can balance both aspects to achieve the best performance,” the 18-year-old said.

Sport Scientists and Biomechanics

In races that lasts minutes and seconds, achieving maximum efficiency with every stroke and action is crucial to performance. And this is where sport biomechanists such as Desmond Boey comes in.

Biomechanics looks into the movement patterns of athletes. Using the laws of physics, they analyze every movement to see how efficient they are, both in terms of performance enhancement and injury prevention.

“On the biomechanics side, we have Desmond down almost three times a week just analyzing what we do in our practices and how we race every single time,” Gary said.

Desmond records swimmers in action and uses the footage to help the swimmers improve their efficiency in the pool.

“These videos are used by us to perform race analyses in order to compare their performance from the last season to actual competition day, to see how and where they have improved,” the SSI sport scientist said.

“This information is then incorporated into the new season's training plan to help the swimmers be more targeted in what they want to work towards improving.”

Team around the Team

There are countless others who have worked tirelessly to aid the swimmers in their quest for glory. The team manager, physiotherapists, massage therapists and doctors all contributed to the accomplishments in Indonesia.

Each and every member of the support set-up is an indispensable member of Team Singapore. For without them, there could very well have been no medal glory.

And the swimmers are well aware of this as well. Ching Hwee said: “The support staff have all been very helpful, such as team manager Sonya, coach Stefan, coach Gary and coach Eugene, as well as the other support staff that have helped me come this far in this competition. I must really thank them.”

SEA Games gold medalist Roanne also admitted: “If I didn’t have help from them, I don’t think I would be able to achieve what I achieved today.”

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Tags: Major Games

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