Joseph Schooling intends to make a historic breakthrough for Singapore at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The butterfly sprint star, who will turn 19 next month, aims to become the first Singaporean to win Olympic gold and there is a possibility he will have to contend with American phenomenon Michael Phelps, who announced he was coming out of retirement last month.
For the first time since the announcement, Schooling went up against Phelps in the 100m butterfly at the US Grand Prix in Charlotte yesterday morning (Singapore time) and, in a close race, the American touched home first, with the Singaporean swimmer finishing third, about half a body length behind.
Phelps clocked 52.13sec to finish ahead of Belarussian Pavel Sankovic (52.72), with Schooling posting a time of 52.95.
Phelps, 28, holds the world record of 49.82 set in 2009, while Schooling's national record is 52.33 recorded last year.
When asked yesterday about going up against the great man, Schooling told The New Paper: "It felt great. I tried to stick to him but he's still got it in him."
Competing for just the second time since retiring after the 2012 London Olympics, Phelps ticked off all the important boxes he needed to.
In the morning heats, he tested his stamina by entering two events - the 200m freestyle and 100m fly.
Then in the evening finals, he tested his speed and won the 100m fly final.
He also qualified for the 200m freestyle final but scratched from the race after achieving his goal in the heats - qualifying for this year's US national championships, which double as the selection event for next year's world championships in Russia.
His time in the 200m free was one minute 51.69 seconds, way below his best, but 0.2sec inside the US qualifying time.
Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all-time with a record 18 golds from 22 medals, has now qualified for the nationals in the 100m fly and 200m free and it certainly looks as if he means business.
Both Phelps and his long-time coach Bob Bowman have been coy about their future plans, but the 100m butterfly is one of two individual events that Phelps won at three successive Olympics. And if he qualifies for the event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he will automatically make the US men's medley relay, which they have never been beaten at the Olympics.
His return could prove problematic for the chasing pack, but Schooling said: "I think it's good for the sport of swimming. It'll give young guys like me the motivation of trying to beat him."
The Singapore teenager was outside of his national record, but is happy enough with where his form's at right now.
"I'm not fully rested at all coming into this meet so I'm racing at 100 per cent. I'm just grinding it out now and trying to make the cut for the Asian Games," he said.
"Yeah, the time in the 100m fly final's decent. I'm pleased with it."
This article was published on May 18 in The New Paper.
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