Swimming: After this, the big time

Four years ago, swimmer Joseph Schooling made a long trip to Peru with only his mum May, who also doubled up as team manager and coach, to compete in the Fina World Junior Swimming Championships.

Then 16, the Singaporean was among names like Australian prodigies Cameron McEvoy and Bronte Campbell, and Japan's budding star Kosuke Hagino, for the Under-18 meet in Lima.

Four years on, this clutch of swimmers have hit the big time, winning medals at the Olympic Games and the World Championships.

Schooling, now 20, who won bronze in the men's 100m butterfly at the world championships earlier this month in Kazan, Russia, has set his sights on an Olympic medal next year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He has come full circle, after becoming the local ambassador for the biennial world juniors, which Singapore hosts for the first time, starting today at the Sports Hub's OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Speaking at a pre-event press conference yesterday, the South-east Asia and Asian Games 100m butterfly champion said: "This is probably the most important junior meet in the world... these swimmers who are racing in this meet are going to be the future of swimming.

"In Peru, I raced against people I am racing against on the world stage now, so this meet is fundamental to the growth of these swimmers."

The field here includes youngsters like American Michael Andrew and Australian Kyle Chalmers, who some are already saying possess the talent of Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe, respectively.

The championships is set to be the second of four high-profile aquatic competitions to be held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, after the South-east Asia Games in June.

The 3,000-capacity venue will also host the swimming World Cup on Oct 3 and 4, and the diving Grand Prix from Oct 16 to 18.

While Singapore's contingent of 22 swimmers are unlikely to feature on the podium this week - the world Under-18s end on Sunday - Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy believes the competition experience will be invaluable.

"We don't usually send that many people to the World Juniors... having the competition here gives more of our swimmers a chance to take part, and is a good starting point (into international-level competitions).

"Also, all the other junior swimmers here who are not competing can also see for themselves the kind of capability the swimmers in their own age-group have.

"It's not one or two, but hundreds of swimmers can swim really fast, and they may change their own mindset of what they can do themselves."

While Fina executive director Cornel Marculescu lauded Singapore's ability to host international events, Lee would not be drawn into whether the Republic can host the senior-level World Championships.

"It is not just a swimming event, it is an aquatics one (with diving, synchronised swimming, open water swimming, swimming and water polo)," he said.

"You are talking about a very large scale and there are infrastructural capabilities that we need to build, such as a swimming pool with a capacity in excess of 11,000, and a high diving capability.

"Whether we have the capacity to do that, we'll need to review after this event and go from there."

This article was first published on August 25, 2015.
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