REIGNING Olympic champion Joseph Schooling was simply in a class of his own.
The 22-year-old Singaporean kicked off his six-gold medal hunt in smashing fashion at the National Aquatic Centre in Bukit Jalil yesterday, retaining his 50m butterfly title with relative ease.
He touched the wall in a new SEA Games record of 23.06 second, wiping off his own mark of 23.49, to beat Indonesian Triady Fauzi Sidiq (24.01) and Vietnamese Paul Le Nguyen (24.37).
“I’m happy with the result ... I couldn’t have asked for a better start,” said Schooling, after picking up his 18th SEA Games gold.
“Everyone has gone faster really. At the last SEA Games, the top eight time was 28.50 second, but it has now improved to 24.90 seconds.
“That speaks a volume how fast the men are getting not only around the world, but also the SEA Games.”
While the Kuala Lumpur Games had the honour to play host to the first Olympic swimming champion, Schooling, too, was equally elated to be back in Malaysia where he spent his childhood.
His mother, May Schooling, is a Malaysian.
“This is a special place to be,” said Schooling.
“I have a huge team supporting me here, my family and friends, so I’m going to do my best to put on a good show and have a good meet.
“I’m pleased with the reception. It’s a Monday night, a working day and yet you still get a big crowd packing the stand.
“Surely it will get better as the days go by and I’m excited for that.”
Schooling, who won nine golds in Singapore two years ago, will only compete in six events this time.
The other five are the 100m and 200m butterfly, 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m freestyle relays.