SINGAPORE - Singapore's Olympic champion swimmer Joseph Schooling insisted Tuesday he meant no offence with a vow to teach Malaysians "a thing or two" when the neighbouring country hosts the Southeast Asian Games this month.
Schooling, who is a national idol after winning the city-state's first gold medal at last year's Summer Olympics, made the comments on his return to Singapore last week from the world swimming championships in Budapest, sparking an online furore.
"We have a chance to do something special at the SEA Games; 2015 was something special for us, I think it will be nice to go to Malaysia's backyard and teach them a thing or two," he said.
His reaction triggered anger online, especially in neighbouring Malaysia, which has a historically prickly relationship with Singapore.
"That comment is uncalled for. Very distasteful; coming from so called pride of Singapore," one web user Paul Kin Lim, posted under an online version of the article.
"It is better to be humble," said another post.
On Tuesday Schooling responded to the online anger, saying his comments were "taken out of context", Singapore's Straits Times newspaper reported.
"I was speaking about how we have a younger team, and I threw in Malaysia somehow - must've been the 17 hours' of jet lag - and then I said I can't wait to go into their backyard and teach them a lesson or two," he was cited as saying in the paper.
"Which made it sound like I was criticising Malaysia, I was actually talking about our younger kids going there and teaching (our) rookies a thing or two about the launch pad that we have in the SEA Games to bigger and better meets in the future."
Schooling is taking part in six events at the Southeast Asian Games, which take place in Kuala Lumpur from August 19 to 30.