A perfect 10 at the SEA Games?

A perfect 10 at the SEA Games?

The pressure has risen for Joseph Schooling and times are expected to fall.

There is little time to savour a sensational and significant 2014 when Asian Games gold and a historic Commonwealth Games silver were added to an already bulging bag of medals.

This June, in his primetime home debut, the prodigious 19-year-old will be the face of the SEA Games.

Two years ago in Myanmar, he won gold in all six of his events, tying the single-edition record for a male Singaporean swimmer.

Yet, it was not enough to win The Straits Times Athlete of the Year award then.

Explained ST's sports editor Marc Lim: "Joseph's talent perhaps acted against him when he was previously nominated for his performances at the SEA Games.

"We all felt he was destined for the bigger stage."

But then came his feats in Glasgow and Incheon last year, and Lim noted yesterday: "He has proved that he does belong with the best this year, which is why he thoroughly deserves his award."

Tipped to enter up to 10 events this time, the University of Texas student is well aware that fans expect his "A" game at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in Kallang.

"I won't reveal the targets I have set because if I don't reach it, people will get on my back," said The Straits Times Athlete of the Year for 2014.

"Every time I get in the pool, I have to perform.

"It's tough to be that consistent but, at the same time, it keeps me on my toes knowing that eyes are always on me."

With eight golds from just two SEA Games outings, he is on course to one day surpass former swim queen Joscelin Yeo's haul of 40.

He also owns nine national records but is expected to do more than dominate in the region.

Now an Asian Games champion in the 100m fly, he has to challenge the likes of Japanese young gun Daiya Seto and South African star Chad le Clos, who pipped him to the Commonwealth Games gold.

Schooling's 51.69-second silver-medal burst in Glasgow last July was the eighth-fastest time in the world last year.

Texas coach Eddie Reese likes what he sees of late and has tipped his charge to crack the 51sec barrier this year.

"I wouldn't put a ceiling as to what this kid could achieve if he puts his mind to it - he's as talented in the fly as anyone we have ever had," said the former US Olympic coach.

Ironically, schoolmate and close friend Jack Conger, 20, is one of Schooling's fiercest rivals in the pool.

The Maryland native clocked 44.78 to win the 100-yard fly at the Big 12 Championships in Austin last week.

Schooling was just 0.03sec adrift in second.

Having come close to Olympic gold medallist Ian Crocker's meet record of 44.72, the duo are in prime form ahead of this month's National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in Iowa.

July's Fina World Championships in Russia will also be a litmus test for Schooling ahead of the Rio Olympics next year.

Known for the fly and individual medleys, the Singaporean has dabbled in the freestyle and backstroke lately ahead of a possible SEA Games assault.

Fans and rivals alike may not recognise him as daily gym workouts have seen him bulk up 3kg to 78kg while his body fat has dipped from 11 to 9 per cent.

It is all for the ultimate goal.

Schooling said: "If, at the end of 2015, nobody is talking about what I did in 2014, that means I had a pretty good year."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 6, 2015.
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