Looking forward to 'homecoming'

Looking forward to 'homecoming'

His popularity is growing by the day, his timings are faster and the medals are piling up.

But strangely, Joseph Schooling, who has been based in the United States since 2009, hardly races in Singapore.

And with the SEA Games on the horizon next June, the 19-year-old is tingling with excitement at the prospect of performing in front of his compatriots.

"I really wish I could be back in Singapore now," he exclaimed over the phone after he was informed of his win as The Straits Times' Star of the Month for September.

Schooling earned the accolade after winning three medals - one gold, silver and bronze each - at the Incheon Asian Games.

His victory in the 100m butterfly, which ended Singapore's 32-year wait for an Asiad men's swimming gold, came in a new Games record of 51.76 sec. "My family and friends will all be there.

I want to have the best SEA Games ever," he said.

Already a dominant swimmer in the region with seven golds from the 2011 and 2013 SEA Games, the 19-year-old wants to do more freestyle events or the gruelling 400m individual medley next June at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and added: "I might even do the backstroke for fun."

It might have been a quip from the University of Texas at Austin freshman, but training has been dialled up a few more notches since he started college in August, training under Texas Longhorns' Eddie Reese, who was also the head coach of the United States' 2008 Olympics squad.

Bench presses, squat jumps, dips, bicep curls, lateral pull downs... he goes in circuits. Again, again and again. And that is just the gym work.

In the water, more laps and faster times are demanded. Even though he is still jet-lagged after the flight back to Austin from Incheon, he gobbles up the training, digesting it and further refines himself as an instrument of speed.

"I'm getting back in shape, I feel stronger day by day. It's very good and suitable training. Seeing the sets (of workouts) that my team-mates have been given, I am going to be a lot fitter," he said.

From a multiple SEA Games medallist last December, Schooling gained international recognition in August with a 100m butterfly silver at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games before the big bang in Korea.

On the personal front, he graduated from the Bolles School in Florida to earn a place at the University of Texas, Austin. He turned 19 on June 16.

"On the social aspect, this is a year of change," he said. "I got into college. Much as I (would) love to major in medicine or biology, I don't read that much. But I like numbers and I hope to major in business finance. "Then, there is the experience I gained from the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games."

Pausing, he added: "I'm growing up to be an adult."

Flashback to six years ago, when a 13-year-old Joseph met his idol Michael Phelps but was too shy to speak to the American.

Feeling that he still hasn't done enough, he hopes one day to meet the man with 22 Olympic medals (18 gold) again or maybe even race against him.

"He's still my favourite swimmer," Schooling said. "I still idolise him and I respect him for all his achievements. If I meet him again, I will have a conversation with him. It will be a cool experience."

Except that the next time the two meet, they could be standing as equals.

This article was first published on October 12, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.