The coming of Joseph Schooling
Channel NewsAsia looks back at the 21-year-old Olympic champion’s trajectory leading up to his crowning moment at Rio 2016.
SINGAPORE: We’ve waited some time for this. Millions of strokes; thousands of laps; hundreds of press stories; dozens of wins and losses; and seven years since he first came to prominence, swimmer Joseph Isaac Schooling has finally landed Singapore’s first-ever Olympic gold medal.
Yet before such headlines were wrought, he was better known in Olympic circles as the kid whose cap and goggles were deemed by an official as unsuitable for his 200m butterfly heat at London 2012. Replacement gear was found in the nick of time, but a shaken Schooling registered a poor race and did not progress to the next round. Out of the water, he received a consolatory hug from the third-place finisher in the heat, a certain Michael Phelps. "He said I’m still young and I’ve got a long way to go, just keep my head high and keep going on," Schooling told media afterwards.
And gone on, he has - to standing atop the podium at Rio 2016, a notch above Phelps, otherwise the greatest Olympian of all time with 22 gold medals to his name.
It started, as the legend goes, with Colin and May Schooling wanting their only son to learn how to tread water. “I was about two to three years old when they submerged me and put me under the water but unlike other kids, I wasn’t afraid,” Schooling once said. “I just used to giggle and found that I really liked being in the water.”
Around the same time, his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg - Singapore’s first Olympian who competed in the high jump at London 1948 - was reported to have impressed upon him the idea of competing on the world’s biggest stage.
Schooling kicked off by winning his first swimming medals as a precocious five-year-old; and it wasn't long before the Anglo-Chinese School Junior alumnus found himself dreaming of being a professional swimmer. His subsequent transfer to the Bolles high school in Florida, US set the wheels churning in motion.
Schooling was then thrust into his first major spotlight overseas, representing Singapore at the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Indonesia. He has since prospered at the biennial meet, laying claim to a glut of golds and regional records across the butterfly; freestyle; individual medley and relay events.
In 2013, swimming heads sat up and took notice after Schooling defeated American superstar Ryan Lochte in the 100m butterfly, which was fast becoming his signature event. Later that year he was granted deferment from National Service until after Rio 2016, to aid in his pursuit of an Olympic medal. It was also his subsequent transition to the University of Texas, and tutelage under ex-US Olympic head coach Eddie Reese, which would pay off handsomely.
INTO HISTORY BOOKS ...
A slew of groundbreaking feats kicked off in 2014 with Schooling’s silver finish in the 100m butterfly bagging Singapore’s first-ever swimming medal at the Commonwealth Games.
… AND THEN SOME
In Rio, after withdrawing from the 200m butterfly and missing out on the 100m freestyle finals, Schooling’s racing began proper in the 100m butterfly - and he did not disappoint. Swimming side-by-side with Phelps in the heats, he pipped the American to the wall a second time to qualify quickest for the semi-finals, where Schooling topped the field again with a splendid 50.83s swim.