Easing back for more success

Water is where swimmer Joseph Schooling reigns supreme. But right now, the pool is the last place he wants to be.

Following his historic Olympic gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games last month, the 21-year-old has since made no secret of his next major target - to break the 100m butterfly world record of 49.82sec.

But when The Sunday Times asked what his plan to achieve this next step is, he said: "I'm not ready to be talking about racing again.

"Just the thought of getting up and going into a race sounds horrible to me right now."

Surprising words, from someone who could not get enough of the water when he was a young boy, even waking his dad Colin up at 4am to go swimming - during his holidays in Malaysia.

Yet, as he assumes the role of a reigning Olympic champion, he has grown to understand the long, arduous process that makes him one.

He said in a phone interview: "I just went through a stressful summer at the Olympics and I'm not ready to be back at 100 per cent yet - and I don't need to be, which is the good part.

"I'm not badly out of shape, and I'm ahead of where I was last year when I started training for the Olympics."

Comparing his current state of fitness to that after last year's World Championships, in which he clinched a bronze in the same race, Schooling said: "It took me a while to get back into shape (then). This time I took about the same time off, if not less, and surprisingly, I feel fine.

"Maybe I'm stronger because I've got more training behind me and having a good base always helps."

And so, the boy who never wanted to leave the water is now a man who takes a firmer control of his own training.

While he previously let coach Eddie Reese take full rein over his training, Schooling said he now "fights" the University of Texas swimming coach on occasion.

"Eddie's pushing for me to take it back to the water and do morning practice, but I'm not going to do that because I swam a month ago, while these kids have had the whole summer off," he said.

"So I've had to 'fight' Eddie on this sometimes, but it's good because we check each other."

Far from being disrespectful or lazy, however, the economics major explained that it is simply a matter of understanding his own body.

"It's all about maturing, gaining experience and knowing how your body and mind feel. Everything is a steady process," he said.

Even as Schooling speaks of wanting to ease back into training and "trying to take the rest of September as easy as I can", the desire to break the world record remains immense.

Still, the Straits Times' Star of the Month for August stressed that he is in no hurry to approach the task with "a 100 per cent effort".

He said: "If I step on the gas right now, it's not going to be good. If I start pounding away again, it's going to be harder to do better in Tokyo in 2020."

Besides the world record, he is also targeting more events at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Now training once a day for six days a week, Schooling does not know when he will ramp up the frequency of his training yet, but is confident he is on track.

"I know what I need to do; I know how I'm feeling now and I know how it's going to play out at the end of the year," he said.

"So I'm taking all the necessary steps I need right now to have fun and forget about swimming, but also stay in shape so that when I'm ready to come back full force, I'll just have to flip a switch - that's what I'm conditioning myself to do."


This article was first published on September 25, 2016.
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