AMERICAN coach and national team director Dennis Pursley has stressed the need for good local sports programmes in Hong Kong to discourage top athletes from going overseas to continue studying. Like many small sporting powers, Hong Kong loses its best athletes to overseas universities and colleges which offer better sports programmes to complement studies. But Pursley, who arrived in town with a 52-strong American squad last night, said if the territory could provide the opportunity for athletes to stay, it would help lift local standards. ''It would help the sport tremendously if Hong Kong could keep its best swimmers instead of them being forced to go overseas,'' said Pursley. ''If Hong Kong could provide an opportunity for them to stay, then it would lift the standard here. ''Japan have probably the closest to a very good swimming programme comparable to the States. But each country is unique and a programme which works in China, for instance, might not work in the United States,'' he said. The Americans, who arrived last night from Los Angeles, will stay in the territory for six days in preparation for the Pan Pacific Championships in Kobe, Japan from August 12-15. The squad, which includes four-time Olympic gold medallist Janet Evans and current Olympic 200 metres freestyle champion Nicole Haislett, will train at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Sha Tin until August 9. Pursley said even the US had its share of problems in the pursuit of sporting excellence. ''We also have our obstacles. Now colleges have limited time spent in the pool because there were complaints that that basketball and football players spent too much time on sports and too little time on their academic studies. ''Our swimmers are average students and this restriction concerns all sports even though in swimming it has never been a problem before,'' he said. With six Barcelona Olympic gold medallists and four current world record holders in his squad, Pursley is confident that his swimmers will shine in the Pan Pacific Championships. ''The whole world has become too competitive,'' said Pursley when asked whether the US would be able to dominate the Atlanta Games. ''Nobody can be too confident now. There are too many challenges.'' He said his squad came through their recent national championships looking ready to hit peak form in Kobe. ''A lot of the young swimmers swam really well. We have a good mix of young and veteran swimmers. We have a lot of new faces in our squad and it's encouraging that they are swimming very well at the moment,'' he said. ''However, we tend to have a strong emphasis on shorter events and not enough on the distance events. But we're trying to correct that,'' he said. ''In Kobe, our main goal will be to improve the swimmers' performance and we're not really too concerned about winning medals,'' he added. The squad also includes women's 100 metres world record holder and Olympic silver medallist Jenny Thompson; 200 metres breaststroke world record holder Anita Nall and Jeff Rouse, the world record holder in the men's 100 metres backstroke.