Schooling says Phelps' return to form will motivate him

Schooling says Phelps' return to form will motivate him
Joseph Schooling, just hours after arriving from the US, took to the pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre which will host the swimming events of the SEA Games in June 2015.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Chad Le Clos' father was dancing a dizzy jig up in the stands a split second after his son won the men's 100m butterfly at the Fina World Championships in Kazan, Russia, on Saturday.

Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, a 29-year-old veteran, reaffirmed he was back as a force by bagging the silver, while Joseph Schooling (below) sent a country into ecstasy when he won bronze - the first by a Singapore swimmer at the world championships.

South Africa's Le Clos clocked 50.56sec, Cseh's time was 50.87 and 20-year-old Schooling touched the wall in 50.96 - the first time an Asian had gone below 51 seconds in the event.

About eight hours later, thousands of kilometres away in San Antonio, Michael Phelps sent a resounding message to the trio, and the rest of the butterfly sprint hopefuls, one year ahead of the Rio Olympics.

He set the fastest time in the world this year - and the fifth fastest of all time - when he won the 100m butterfly at the US Nationals in 50.45.

Phelps (near right, with a young Schooling), recognised as the greatest swimmer of all time, is back, and he's really fast. And Schooling says bring it on.

"I am excited to race him. There's just something about Phelps that motivates you," the Singapore star told The New Paper via a conference call yesterday.

"Beating him isn't like beating other competitors, and if he's next to me, it's going to give me that extra gear. I'm looking forward to that."

Phelps, who owns 18 Olympic gold medals and won 25 races at the world championships, is the oldest of the bunch at 30.

Le Clos is 23 and at 20 Schooling is the new kid on the block as the swimmers now focus on the 2016 Olympic Games.

The American superstar, who was banned from competing in Kazan by the US Swimming after a drink-driving violation, holds the world record in the 100m fly at 49.82.

The winner of Olympic gold in the event next year could well have to set a new world mark, or at least go below 50 seconds, but Schooling, who described his swim in Kazan as "95 per cent perfect)", believes he will medal as long as he goes under 51 seconds.

When asked if he already had a time in mind, Schooling, who is aiming to make more history by becoming the first Singapore swimmer to win Olympic medal, said: "I don't know, man. I'm trying not to think about that right now.

"If Phelps had posted 48 seconds and broken the world record, I honestly wouldn't have cared - because I accomplished what I wanted to do (in Kazan).

"The timings are irrelevant, you know. It's about your position.

"If I broke the Asian record but finished last here, it wouldn't have mattered.

"It's all about who can get their hand on the wall first, and that's how it'll be in Rio."

Schooling, an undergraduate at the University of Texas, trains under renowned American coach Eddie Reese.

Singapore's national swim coach, Sergio Lopez, is optimistic Schooling will be even better come the 2016 Olympics.

"Joseph improved by seven-tenths of a second in the past year, and if he breaks (through) another seven-tenths next year, then he would better Phelps' time," he said.

"If he trains hard, he will get stronger. He will be 21 next year and that is a good age to race at the Olympics.

"This bronze medal doesn't change anything. Even if Joseph finished fourth or fifth, his goal would still be to medal at the Olympics.

"The medal has given him the confidence moving forward. It's a statement from Joseph, that he is here to compete against the best." The Singaporean is definitely one of the big boys of the butterfly sprints now.

The 100m fly was his second final in Kazan, after he finished seventh in the 50m fly on Monday.

That was the first time a local male swimmer had advanced to a world final since Ang Peng Siong finished fourth in the 50m freestyle in 1986.

He finished 10th in the 200m butterfly, and yesterday, he clearly had little left in the tank after a tough, intense week.

"It's been 12 hours since my race and I'm tired, hungry and a little cranky," he joked.

This article was first published on August 10, 2015.
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