SINGAPORE - Olympic champion Joseph Schooling contributed to a grandstand finish in the last event of this year's Fina World Cup in front of almost 3,000 spectators at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Saturday (Nov 17) night.
The 23-year-old proved he still has the capacity to surprise when he took off and swam not his preferred butterfly stroke but the backstroke in the first leg of the mixed 4x50m medley relay.
And Schooling's "hidden talent" turned out to be a silver lining - he clocked 24.08sec to set a new national backstroke (short-course) record, eclipsing Quah Zheng Wen's previous mark of 24.56sec set in 2014.
The Singapore team of Schooling, Roanne Ho, Teong Tzen Wei and Amanda Lim went on to claim the silver in 1:42.21, behind Australia's (Minna Atherton, Matthew Wilson, Emily Seebohm and Kyle Chalmers) winning time of 1:39.69.
Schooling, who also picked up a bronze in the 50m butterfly final in another national record (22.40sec), acknowledged that his background in the 200m individual medley helped.
He added: "(National Training Centre head coach) Gary (Tan) asked me if I could do the backstroke. I said if it's 50m and short-course, I'm there.
"Short-course sprints are all about underwater (work). I knew my swim wasn't as good as my underwater so my underwater carried me in that race and I'm happy we won a medal for Singapore.
"Zheng's a better backstroker than me. If he came back from the States and raced that, he would probably beat that. But a new national record in backstroke, I don't know what to say other than it's awesome. It's a new position and I'm enjoying it."
On Wednesday, Schooling will head back to the US to complete his undergraduate studies with the University of Texas at Austin next month, before returning to Singapore in February to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Meanwhile, another two world-class swimmers have set their sights on Olympic glory after claiming domination at this year's Fina World Cup.
Russian Vladimir Morozov won four events across three days here - including the 50m fly in 22.17sec last night - and was crowned the Asian cluster winner and overall men's champion, picking up cheques of US$50,000 ($68,600) and US$150,000 respectively.
The 26-year-old, who has just one individual medal at a long-course World Championships - a silver in the 50m free in 2013 - said: "The plan was to hold on in the long-course, and try to go for the world records in the short-course. It was a good plan because I managed to break the world record (in the 100m IM) and did personal bests.
"I have always been better in the short-course than long-course because I've been training short-course my whole life. But I have been setting best times in long-course as well and it's a challenge I want to master."
The women's competition proved to be a closer-fought affair. Hungary's Katinka Hosszu won the Asian cluster and US$50,000 in prize money but it was Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom who was the overall women's champion.
After picking up her trophy and US$150,000 cheque, the 25-year-old who won five events in Singapore - including the 100m fly in 55.73sec and 100m free in 51.13sec - said she will most likely not be able to make it three overall titles in a row next year.
She added: "This year was very tight in terms of points and it became very exciting for everyone and I'm very happy to win again.
"Next year will be all about preparing for the Olympics. I may swim in a few races but not travel like I have in these two years because I would miss too many long-course training and gym sessions. The Olympics is definitely more important."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.