Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling scripted history after winning the maiden gold medal for his country in the 100m butterfly event at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. This triumph escalated to another level when he had beaten his idol and 28-time Olympic-medalist Michael Phelps to finish at the top of the podium.
When Schooling met his childhood hero at the age of 13, he would have surely not imagined that eight years later he would rob the legendary US swimmer of his fifth gold in Rio. The youngster later went on to win by the narrowest margin to set a new Olympic record of 50.39 seconds, 0.75 seconds ahead of Phelps, with South Africa’s Chad le Clos in third.
Interestingly, not many are aware of the fact that Joseph was born with Olympic blood in his veins – his great-uncle was Singapore’s first-ever Olympian in 1948. This was also one of the top reasons why he was encouraged to pursue his love for swimming from an early age by parents who had themselves enjoyed sporting careers.
“I was a little spoiled in Singapore as a kid”
Born in 1995, Joseph had moved to Florida to train with world-class coach Sergio Lopez. During a media interaction after the Games, the gold-medalist had mentioned the first year was a tough learning curve.
“I was a little spoiled in Singapore as a kid, never having to pick up after myself… It was a huge awakening.”
Schooling also shed light on his young career when he qualified for London 2012 after winning the 200m butterfly at the 2011 Southeast Asian Games. However, a temporary loss of focus saw him miss out on the all-important semi-final after his swimming cap and goggles failed to pass branding regulations before his heats.
“That was probably one of the most horrible experiences of my life,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to swim anymore.”
“I’m glad it happened. It made me mature, as an athlete and a person. Those are the kind of setbacks we need sometimes to find out what we are really made of,” he reflects. “If you want to do this, put it behind you, start moving on. The clock resets every four years.”