SINGAPORE: Over the years, Singapore has seen pre-eminent swimmers such as golden girl Patricia Chan who ruled the pool in the 1960s, Ang Peng Siong who first put Singapore on the world map in the 1980s, and Joscelin Yeo in the 1990s.
While Chan and Yeo took 39 and 40 gold medals respectively at the SEA Games — known as the South-east Asia Peninsular (SEAP) Games until 1977 — Ang once held the world’s fastest time in the 50m freestyle in 1982 and was also an Asian Games champion the same year in the 100m free.
But in this current era, there is possibly a bigger star in the making in 19-year-old Joseph Schooling, who is proving to be a bright prospect for bringing home Singapore’s first swimming medal at the Olympics.
|Singapore swim sensation Joseph Schooling was seen mingling autographs poolside after winning his eighth gold of the SEA Games on Wednesday (Jun 10). (Photo: Jack Board)|
After the Texas-based teenager swam 51.69secs to clinch the 100m fly silver at last year’s Commonwealth Games, finishing only behind South African Olympic champion Chad Le Clos (51.29) - and then following up by winning the same event at the Asian Games in a new Games record (51.96) - Schooling has continued to make a splash at the SEA Games this year, clinching nine gold medals, all in Games record times.
Singapore’s swimming legends TODAY spoke to think that Schooling could go on to become the country’s greatest ever swimmer, if the current support system he has from his family and swim team at the United States continue to rally around him well.
“He is a very talented swimmer, and has a lot of belief in himself. What he wants is to be the best on the world stage, and he makes no secret of that which really makes him stand out too,” said Chan.
“I don’t know if he can win (an Olympic gold medal) in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro, but I would say, let’s have patience and see - maybe 2016, or maybe in future (editions), but the potential is clear.”
Chan, who was named Singapore’s Sportswoman of the Year for five consecutive years (1967-1971), added that she has never seen such “strong psychological strength in anyone such as Joseph in the longest time” and that most of the credit must go to his parents.
David Lim, one of Singapore’s leading backstrokers in the 1980s and a two-time Olympian (1984, 1988), recalled that he “could not calm down” while competing at the Olympics and allowed his nerves to get to him.
“I looked around everywhere, and I saw people that I had read a lot about and saw so many times on television, and that pressure is really immense,” said Lim. “But Joseph is with Eddie Reese, and I saw that they have a really good relationship. If you want to name the top five coaches in the world, Eddie is up there, and Joseph can trust Eddie to give him the training he needs to handle pressure and do amazing swims.”
Added Singapore swimming head coach Sergio Lopez, who had coached Schooling for five years at The Bolles School in Florida: “I think he has done his job here (nine gold in nine SEA Games record times). Now, he needs to go back to focus on the World Championships (Jul 24 to Aug 9), and most importantly, on the Olympic Games.”
It may be mission accomplished for Schooling at this year’s SEA Games, but the swimmer was still slightly dissatisfied with some aspects of his game, pointing to the fact that his dives were less than perfect.
It is something he said he would continue to hone in preparation for the coming world championships, where he will take part in three events and is confident of a good showing alongside some of the best in the world.
“I have qualified for what I wanted to qualify for — the Rio (Olympics) ... I thought my dive was pretty good (at the SEA Games) but looking at the video footage, that was pretty poor.
“I am lucky that this wasn’t the Olympics or the Worlds ... That’s something I am going to work on.”