NS deferment for Schooling is the right move


The "ayes" were resounding after Parliament moved a motion to congratulate swimmer Joseph Schooling.

It was an unprecedented Government action, coming just hours after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen had said that Mindef had extended Schooling's deferment by four years.

In October 2013, he was granted a deferment to help him pursue his Olympic dream of standing on the podium in Rio three years later.

That is due to end this month, and the new decision is to help him do just as well in Tokyo 2020, after he shocked the swimming world last Saturday.

Schooling whipped the star-studded field that included "The Greatest" Michael Phelps and two other multi-Olympic medallists, with his gold-medal victory in the 100m butterfly in Rio.

Many Singaporeans had written to the media and posted positive comments on the Internet, stating that Schooling deserves the deferment extension.


In fact, there were no "nays" from the hundreds of fans I had spoken to, about this issue.

So this Government move is to be applauded, because from now to 2020, there should be no distractions for Schooling in his fresh pursuit of defending his Olympic crown.

It is said that winning a title is painstaking and hard. Defending it is harder.

And Schooling has been a model swimmer who rose from bathtub frolic as a two-year-old toddler to an Olympic champion at 21.

I was sitting beside his dad Colin, at the Upper Thomson Road home of a family friend, Jimmy Teo, when Schooling called after his biggest triumph in Rio.

"I love you, son," was how Colin ended the conversation.

Immediately, I sensed the strong bond between father and only son.

As Colin explained: "This bond is also about understanding each other's sacrifices: How much May (mum) and I can provide in this grand mission, and his own belief in his abilities."

Schooling was always driven towards his Olympic belief. Dare To Dream was his motto.

Despite some disappointments along the way in his 14-year journey to the swimming summit, he remained focused, leaving his dad and mum to tackle the problems.

As Colin confided: "I manage his aspirations, he has to take care of his expectations."

A filial son, a mild-mannered gentleman and a disciplined achiever, Schooling hit the heights because he had been set a well-thought-out path to glory.

From the comfort zone at home, he was thrown at the "deep end" at 14 in the United States (Florida and Texas), balancing swimming against the best in the world, and studies.

Now that Schooling has put Singapore on the world map, I can draw a parallel with a swimmer from Suriname, who had a similar success.


Like how Schooling beat his idol Michael Phelps, Anthony Nesty had one over his hero Matt Biondi, the legendary water wonder from the United States, at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Same event: The 100m butterfly. Different manner: Schooling's was by a massive 0.75sec, Nesty's a mere 0.01.

Not one for excesses, the affable Nesty then told me in Seoul: "Fantastic. I owe it to my stint in the US. Now the world knows where Suriname is."

Like Singapore's, that was Suriname's only Olympic gold medal in 56 years of Olympic participation (Nesty also won a bronze in 1992, though).

Like Schooling, Nesty, born in Trinidad and Tobago before migrating to Suriname, had enrolled at the Bolles School in Florida.

The Suriname government recognised Nesty's remarkable feat by commemorating his gold-medal performance on a stamp and on gold and silver coins.

A 25-guilders bank note portraying an illustration of a butterfly swimmer was printed in his honour.

And Surinam Airways named one of its planes after Nesty, and the indoor stadium in Paramaribo was renamed for him.

So Singapore's recognition of the feat by an invitation to Parliment after the grand homecoming at Changi Airport is a fitting gesture.


Schooling is to be hailed again with an open-top bus parade, and he has requested to delay his return to Texas by four days, so that he can attend Sunday's National Day Rally.

It was a further tribute when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, after taking a photograph with Schooling yesterday, said: "Usually people ask me for selfies, but today I felt so proud to ask Joseph for one."

The megastar certainly deserves the Mindef deferment.

This article was first published on August 16, 2016.
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