NAYPYITAW: Daniel Bego used to be his idol but how the tables have turned as swimmer Joseph Schooling emerged as the star athlete of Singapore with five golds in the bag, four in record times, as the Myanmar SEA Games swimming competition concluded here on Monday.
The 18-year-old duly retained his 200m butterfly title but missed out on a fifth, taking silver in the 4x100m medley.
Schooling was victorious in the 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle in new record times.
The 200m butterfly was the only individual event in which he did not set a new Games record. Nevertheless, Schooling has more than left his mark in Naypyitaw.
He recalled watching Daniel splash to five golds at the Laos SEA Games in 2009.
“He used to be my idol when I was younger and used to watch him swim. I did not swim at the SEA Games then,” said the US-based swimmer, who is studying at the Bolles School, which is the alma mater of former Malaysian top backstroker Alex Lim Keng Liat.
Schooling made his debut in Palembang two years ago where he won the 50m butterfly apart from the longer 200m race. The 50m butterfly event was not contested in Myanmar this time but that did not stop Schooling from making his presence felt.
“We may swim for ourselves, but there is something bigger than us, and that is Singapore.
“This is a regional meet and Singaporeans are watching and backing me.
“To finish with five golds is just phenomenal,” said Schooling, who is his country’s National Sportsman for 2012.
Schooling has a lofty ambition to realise – to become an Olympic champion in his pet butterfly stroke.
It is not wishful thinking on his part as he was the only swimmer from the region to qualify under the “A” time standard for the London Olympics last year in the 200m butterfly.
Schooling, who stands at 1.70m tall and is still growing, failed to make the semi-finals in his event in London but vowed to come back stronger in Rio in three years’ time.
He is currently in the top five in the all-time rankings in his age group in the US, considered the top swimming country in the world.
In the 100m butterfly, his personal best time of 52.33 is ranked second behind 18-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps (51.10). He is also ranked third in 200m butterfly (1:56.27) and fifth in the 200m individual medley (1:59.99).
It is no wonder that Singapore granted Schooling a long term deferment from National Service to enable him to focus fully on achieving his Rio dream.
He will be attending the University of Texas in Austin next year on a scholarship where he will be trained by Eddie Reese, who coached the US Olympic swimming teams from 1992 to 2012.
And yesterday Joseph showed just why he is worthy of the special treatment from the Singapore government.
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