It was not his first time sharing the pool with the legendary Michael Phelps. But the brush with greatness yesterday was enough for Joseph Schooling, who pressed on in spite of fatigue to meet the 2014 Asian Games qualifying mark for the 100m butterfly at the Charlotte Grand Prix in North Carolina.
The 18-year-old clocked 52.95 seconds to finish third. Phelps won with a time of 52.13sec, ahead of two-time Olympian Pavel Sankovich of Belarus, who clocked 52.72sec to finish second.
Said Schooling, who swam in lane six, next to Phelps who took lane five: "I'm not fully rested so I'm not at 100 per cent.
"It feels great (swimming next to Phelps). I had more motivation, and (now) I wish he was swimming the 200m fly."
The time was 0.62sec off his national record of 52.33sec, but it surpassed the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) criteria of bettering the sixth-best finish at the last Asiad.
On making the cut for September's Games in Incheon, South Korea, the butterfly specialist said: "I'm happy to have made the cut. My goal coming into this meet was to qualify for the Asian Games in my events."
The win concluded Phelps' participation at the Charlotte meet, although Schooling has four more events lined up.
He swam in the 200m freestyle earlier, but his time of 1:53.01 did not meet the Asian Games qualifying time of 1:50.42.
Next on Schooling's hit list is the 50m fly, 200m fly, 200m individual medley, and 100m free.
The Bolles School (Florida) student told The Sunday Times: "I'm just grinding it out right now, and the main focus will be in Glasgow and Incheon.
"My preparations have been good. We're trying different training methods so my body's in shock right now. I should be good for my meets this summer."
Compatriot Quah Ting Wen also swam at the Charlotte Grand Prix.
However, the 21-year-old's results in the 200m free (2:06.37) and 100m fly (1:02.70) did not make the Asian Games qualifying mark.
Singapore's athletes have until Aug 1 to meet the SNOC selection criteria.
This article was published on May 18 in The Straits Times.
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