We salute you, Joe

We salute you, Joe
Singapore's bronze medallist Joseph Isaac Schooling poses on the podium of the men's 100m butterfly swimming event at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan on August 8, 2015.

Two days ago, Colin Schooling sent me this message: "Bro, we continue to pray that this week the World will know our "tiny" Nation.

"And I pray Joseph will give S'pore a wonderful SG50 present!"

Joseph Schooling's dad's prayers were answered last night at the World Swimming Championship in Kazan, Russia.

Joseph, given little chance after Friday's 100 metres butterfly semi-finals from which he edged into the final as the seventh-best qualifier, finished third (50.96sec) behind two of the biggest names in world swimming.

South African Chad le Clos (50.56) and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh (50.87) finished ahead of him, and the highly-fancied American Tom Shields was put out of the medals by Joseph.

Last night, Colin said: "Our dream came through for Singapore and what a ND gift it was."

Colin and wife May were watching the race at their Lagoon View condominium with coach Sergio Lopez's family and Joseph's friends from Hong Kong and the United States.

Added Colin: "What a race. I'm excited. I'm flabbergasted.

"I give all credit to Sergio. After missing the 200m butterfly final, Joe was a little down.

"Sergio has a special relationship with my boy. He knows how to calm him down.

"We normally do not speak with him before big races. And all I told him, through a message, was, 'Whatever you do, be neat in your finish'."

If Joseph was neat with his finish, his explosive start was certainly neater.

With the best reaction time, Joseph, swimming in Lane One, hit the 50m turn first.

And, unlike the semi-finals when he faded towards the last 25m, Joseph kept pushing himself to complete a historic race.

Singapore has had world-class performances - from champions in bowling, sailing, shooting, and even darts; and Olympic medal winners.

But they all pale in comparision to what swimmer Joseph did last night, just 40 minutes before the clock struck to signal the country's 50th birthday.

Honoured as Singapore's 2014 Sportsman of the Year earlier this week, Joseph swam the race of his life to be the first Asian to go below 51.00sec and also shatter the national record for the third time in a row.

I have watched Joseph swim from the age of five at the Tanah Merah Country Club pool, and his parents' appeal to me then was to "keep him low profile".

This was during a period when Colin was mapping out a programme that included studies on bone-mass build-up and records of the world's swimmers of Joseph's age.

It was that clincal and careful study that led to Joseph's stint in the United States for studies and swimming and now this world-class performance. In my 46 years of sports journalism, I have seen many of our athletes excel. But nothing compares with what I witnessed last night.

I was there in Edinburgh and London with swimming great Ang Peng Siong only days before his flight to Madrid for the 1986 World Championships where he was expected to win a 50m freestyle medal.

Ang, who set a world-best time of 22.69 in Indianapolis in 1982, just missed out on the medal, finishing fourth.

Now Joseph has gone one better, and is the first Singaporean swimmer to win a medal at the World Championships.

The medal has elevated Joseph to a pedestal for his charge towards a medal at next year's Olympic Games in Rio.

We salute you, Joe. And good luck for Rio.


This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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