Jing-E Tan, 17, multi-medal winner and widely acknowledged to be Singapore’s rising “Swim Queen,” moved to the US in 2014 for two reasons: one, to have more opportunities to excel in the sport she loves, and two: because of Singapore’s overly demanding academic schedule left her little time to pursue her passion.
Like all of the country’s students, Ms. Tan was faced with the highly competitive Primary School Leaving Examination five years ago at the age of 12, which means that she had to balance studying for the test with her swim training, which left her with little time to sleep.
Ms. Tan, who started competitive swimming at 7, is just one of many talented Singaporean athletes faced with this dilemma at such a young age.
Her father, Ken Tan, concerned with her fatigue, asked her if she desired to continue her training, which she did, and which led her and most of her family to relocate to the US in 2014. Ms. Tan realizes that had she stayed in Singapore, a society that places a high premium on education, it would have been highly likely that she would have given up on sports.
In the US, Ms. Tan first joined world-class swimmer Michael Phelps’ former club, North Baltimore Aquatic Club. Later on the family moved to Washington D.C., where she is now at the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, training with Bruce Gemmell, who is also the trainer of swimming champion Katie Ledecky. She has also joined the team at a private, all-girls school in Bethesda, Maryland, Holton Arms, and was awarded most valuable swimmer.
In 2013, Ms. Tan swept the 2013 Southeast Asia Swimming Championships, garnering three championship records and winning golds in all seven events she joined in the 13-and-under age group. In the 2014 Asian Games she swam for the Singaporean team in Incheon, where she was touted by the press as a “swim queen” in the making.
Olympic swimmer David Lim, who coached Ms. Tan on the Singapore national team and with the Swimfast Aquatic Group, was the one who suggested the move to the US, something other Singaporean swimmers had also done. This includes Mr. Lim himself, who has swum at Brigham Young University in the 1980s.
Mr. Tan believes that Ms. Tan will eventually swim in the Olympics.
Singapore, where swimming is very popular, has produced many outstanding swimmers who dominate competitions throughout the region. Joseph Schooling won the first gold medal for the country in 2016 at the Rio Olympics, for the 100-meter butterfly event. He is now in his final year at the University of Texas, having moved to the US in 2009.
Like Ms. Tan, he agrees that he would not have gotten this far if he has stayed in Singapore, but he would have been forced to prioritized academics.
His Olympic win won great accolades for him back home, and inspired younger children to pursue competitive sports as well.
In 2015, the Singapore Swimming Association’s National Training Centre was begun, in order to support budding athletes.
Ms. Tan, a second-team All-Met selection, has been able to pursue her passion for swimming, and wants to continue to represent Singapore in the sport. She also dreams of swimming for a Division I college one day. For the moment, she is thankful to be able to balance sports and academics, as well as get the rest she needs.