The weight of a country's expectations was on his broad, but young, shoulders. No Singaporean swimmer had ever won a medal at the Commonwealth Games and Joseph Schooling was tipped to deliver the unprecedented in Glasgow, Scotland.
As the 19-year-old stepped out of the locker room and headed poolside at the Tollcross Swimming Centre yesterday morning (Singapore time), he seemed at ease, flashing a boyish smile and acknowledged those who cheered as his name was announced.
But nobody except Schooling knew what went wrong as he finished last in his pet event - the 200m butterfly final - finishing in 1:59.09, more than two seconds off his national record of 1:56.27, which would have been good enough for silver.
South African Chad le Clos won the event in a new Games record timing of 1:55.07, Australian Grant Irvine was second in 1:56.34, and South African Sebastien Rousseau took bronze in 1:56.43.
National swimming coach Ian Turner told The New Paper: "It was very disappointing, and Joseph is very disappointed as well.
"He told us his shoulders, arms and legs cramped up when he got on the blocks and he couldn't shake it off."
Turner declined to speculate whether it was nerves or whether it was because Schooling was unwell.
But the cramps definitely affected the Singapore swim sensation's performance.
He was decent off the blocks with a reaction time of 0.67s - Le Clos took 0.71s - but, by the time he touched the wall after 50 metres, Schooling had fallen to seventh place.
There was a brief fightback as he charged to fifth position at the halfway mark - just 0.33s behind Le Clos who was third then. But the race towards a historic medal slowly slipped out of Schooling's grasp as his rivals powered ahead and away from him.
He may not have the coveted piece of metal around his neck but, after four days of swimming competition, Schooling has set new national records in the 100m freestyle (50.05) and in the 50m butterfly (23.43), in which he also equalled the Asian record.
Turner said: "We have to be fair to Joseph. This is his first Commonwealth Games and he's getting his first opportunities to win something for Singapore.
"There were a lot of second swims (qualifying for the semi-final or final), which are hard to come by at this level.
"If you are not here, it can be hard to perceive what Singapore are up against. This is a world-class field which is breaking Games records, swimming some of the best times this year.
"The truth is Singapore swimming is still far from world-class, although Joseph is an exceptional talent. It's a learning curve for Joseph and he'll live to fight another day."
Schooling bounced back from his disappointment to qualify for the 100m butterfly semi-finals this morning after clocking 53.58 in his heats yesterday, while Quah Zheng Wen also progressed with a time of 54.46.
The duo, along with Danny Yeo and Clement Lim, made it to the 4x200m freestyle final after they combined for a time of 7:26.96 to finish seventh overall in the heats.
In the men's 50m breaststroke heats, Christopher Cheong finished in 30.50 and failed to qualify for the semi-finals.
Chan in semis
In the women's 100m freestyle heats, Marina Chan qualified for the semi-finals with her time of 57.37. Amanda Lim, who finished in 57.78, and Quah Ting Wen, who clocked 57.92, failed to progress.
Samantha Yeo finished her 200m individual medley heats in 2:21.01, and the 100m breaststroke heats in 1:11.53 and did not qualify for the semi-finals.
Lynette Lim's time of 8:58.53 in the women's 800m freestyle heats was not good enough for a place in the final.
This article was published on July 28 in The New Paper.
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