Swimming coach: Give Kayla Sanchez time to adjust

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Sep 20 2022 06:49 AM

More than just a coach, Swiss swimming mentor Luka Gabrilo sees himself as a protector and “shield” of talented swimmer and Tokyo Olympic medalist Kayla Sanchez as she makes the huge transition in competing for the Philippines from being a mainstay of the Canadian national swimming team.

“Kayla at the moment is facing so many changes. So let’s give her some space and not pressure that much,” said Gabrilo, who had a two-hour face-to-face conversation with Sanchez for the first time last week on how to chart her training and competition program in the next few months.

Gabrilo, head coach of the Israel swimming squad that competed in the Tokyo Olympic Games, stressed that he was no miracle worker and that it would take time in grooming Sanchez as one of the country’s individual medal hopefuls in the 2024 Paris Summer Games.

“Wait, wait, wait. No, no, no. That is a dream. At the moment, (having an individual podium finish for Sanchez in the Paris Olympics), seems impossible,” he said emphatically. “Talking about winning an individual Olympic medal is unfair.” 

As a member of the Canadian swimming team, Sanchez, whose parents were born in Philippines before they migrated from Singapore to Canada, won silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle and 4x100-meter medley relays in the Japanese capital of Tokyo last year.

Realizing the weight of expectations that Sanchez, who turned 21 last April 7, had on her broad shoulders, Gabrilo vowed “to protect her. To be her shield. Let’s put the pressure on Lani (Velasco, Philippine Swimming Inc. president). Let’s put the pressure on me.”

Drawing from his decade-long experience in working with swimmers from seven national federations, the Swiss coach said that what the swimmer was trying was not easy, especially after coming from a highly-successful and well-funded Canadian swimming program. 

“We are not even a spending a hundredth of what they are investing and now we want to do better than them (with Sanchez)? How?” he asked.

A former Swiss national junior swimming standout, Gabrilo said that there will be times that Sanchez might question her decision in competing for the Philippine flag when she will ask “did I make the right choice?

“These times will come and this is where she needs our love; to be treated positively and not feel pressured.”

He said the general idea in coaching Sanchez was “to see what is the best that she has done in an individual race, set benchmarks and go on from there. The goal is to let her do better than she has ever done individually. That is the goal. My question to Kayla was if she was ready to commit to it.”

In his long chat with the swimmer, Gabrilo said that “we have the same vision and we are on the same page. We are both convinced that we can achieve what is required.”

For her part, Sanchez said that with the tutelage of the Swiss coach “you can expect my absolute best. I was also looking for change after working with my former coach (Ben Titley of Swim Canada), someone who could take me to the next level and be able to achieve great things for the Philippines.

“I have trust in (coach) Luka and in his ability to challenge me and to help me go best times and get ready to those big international meets.”

She said that with coach Luka’s instructions, she has resumed her training grind and done 5,000 meters of swimming at the pool “and now we’re going to go 6,000 meters next.”

“We’re starting to develop our plan until December but nothing is set in stone yet. We’re just making sure I’m doing the things that I need to do,” Sanchez added, revealing that she might go out of the country near the end of the year to compete in an overseas short course event. 

After serving her one-year of residency as required by the International Swimming Federation, the world swimming body known by its French acronym FINA, Sanchez will be eligible to see action for the Philppines for the first time in the world championships scheduled in Fukuoka, Japan in July 2023.

She said that she also has set her sights in the Hangzhou Asian Games from Sept. 23 to Oct. 8, 2023 in Hangzhou, China, hoping to 31-year-old swimming dry spell in the quadrennial continental showcase since Billy Wilson ruled the men’s 200-meter freestyle event in the 1982 New Delhi Asiad.

Gabrilo said that winning an individual medal for Sanchez, whose pet events are the freestyle and back stroke, in the 19th Asian Games was a doable goal.

“Let’s try to do this. Let’s talk about a medal in the Asian Games. We want to make history but let’s do it step-by-step. First I want to jump properly but my goal for (Sanchez) is to fly,” he said.