Joseph Schooling: A bridge between Rio & Singapore

He glanced to his right, then turned towards the camera flashes and put his foot down.

"This is the last shot, we are going to charge you if want to take some more photos," said Brazil's ambassador to Singapore, Flavio Soares Damico, tongue-in-cheek.

He played host to Singapore's Olympians and Paralympians at his residence off Holland Road last night to commemorate the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Paralympics.

Sailors Sara Tan, Jovina Choo as well as Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh were among the athletes feted, but it was clear that swimming superstar Joseph Schooling was the main attraction.

Schooling, 21, flashed that trademark megawatt smile for cameras, but Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist could not hide his tired eyes from the ambassador.

With Brazil and Singapore celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations next year, Schooling's victory in the 100m butterfly final in Rio has etched a permanent link between the two countries.

"I was watching Joseph swim that final and win a first gold medal for Singapore, and I thought: God must like me," a smiling Damico told The New Paper.

"That is imprinted in the mind of every Singaporean, and it was done at the Olympics, where athletes come together, regardless of their differences and diverse backgrounds to compete for their country - this is something shared between Brazil and Singapore."


TNP had earlier reported that the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) is poised to conduct a coaching course here next year as part of the commemoration of 50 years of diplomatic relations, and perhaps Schooling could also play a role.

"We are looking at organising high- level visits and these are among a number of plans that we have to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations, but we have to get approval from Brasilia first," said Damico, who seems to have found a non-traditional partner in Schooling to aid his cause in building a bigger bridge between Singapore and Brazil.

"In these new modern times, countries have to explore non-traditional partnerships.

"Brazil will look to Asia and, in particular, South-east Asia and Singapore."

"I'll always hold Rio in a special place in my heart," said Schooling.

"Rio was what I was training for (in the lead-up to the Olympics) and it is always on my mind, 100 per cent.

"It was a great feeling flying out of Rio (after winning gold), there was a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief, excitement too - I was happy the way Rio turned out."

Damico might struggle to pin Schooling down in 2017, though, especially since the 21-year-old is turning his attentions to climbing another summit - breaking the 100m butterfly world record.

The University of Texas undergraduate clocked 50.39 seconds to win the 100m butterfly in August, and his new target is to go below Michael Phelps' world record of 49.82sec.

"It's been pretty hard (being back in Singapore), it was a lot of fun, but it has definitely been tough," said Schooling, who was at one engagement after another since he arrived home last Friday. "I'm ready to go back to the US, get away from all this and start training again."

He leaves for the US tomorrow.

"This has been fun, don't get me wrong, but my job is to swim, not to do interviews, take pictures and sign autographs. My job is to swim and go to school and get good grades -so that's what I'm going to be doing when I go back."

And Schooling is planning to get that world record the same way he won gold in Rio.

"Just train hard, go back to the drawing board, it's plain old hard work, no secret about that," he said.

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This article was first published on November 24, 2016.
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