An Olympic champion is born.

A country wins its first gold.

A nation rejoices.

The Straits Times traces Joseph Schooling's road to Rio, his record-breaking race and his victorious homecoming.

The Race

This swim wasn’t for me.

It’s for my country.





- Joseph Schooling



A golden moment for Singapore






Aug 13, 2016. Remember this day.


It was when Joseph Schooling moved this nation to tears.


9.15am. Remember this moment.


It was when a Singaporean upstaged the greatest Olympian of all time to win Olympic gold.


9.59am. Remember this feeling, when Singapore's flag was raised and Majulah Singapura was sung for the first time at the Olympic Games.


Whether you were in Jurong or Ang Mo Kio, Aug 13 was a history-making day, as the 21-year-old swimmer won Singapore's first-ever gold at the Olympics in the 100m butterfly.


Weightlifter Tan Howe Liang's silver in Rome 1960. The table tennis team's silver in Beijing 2008. Feng Tianwei's double bronze in London 2012.


This tiny nation has been on the Olympic podium before, but never at the summit, never in a sport as high-profile as swimming, and never against a 22-time Olympic gold medallist in Michael Phelps.

Mr Colin Schooling, Joseph's father, had told his only son to "stun the world" before the final.


And stun he did. His winning time of 50.39 seconds was a new Olympic record. It was good enough to beat not only defending Olympic champion Phelps - who had yet to lose the 100m butterfly in over a decade - but also two of the world's greatest butterfly specialists, South African Chad le Clos and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh.


To say Schooling's gold touched a nation would be an understatement. It captivated a populace.


The Straits Times' Facebook live feed of the senior Schooling watching his son in action on TV from Singapore reached over 1.5 million people.


Facebook user Ace Kandar said: "My tears just flowed hearing Majulah Singapura, and seeing Mr Schooling controlling his tears and being proud as a father."


On Twitter, 380,000 tweets went out just before and after Schooling's race.


In an ode to his winning time of 50.39 seconds, the number 5039 was sold out at Singapore Pools within hours of the race.


It is little wonder that Singapore's hero is being rushed back home - flying first-class no less - so the country can honour him.

A beaming Joseph Schooling with his hard-earned gold medal. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

It has been a long journey for the Schoolings.


Colin and his wife May made the decision to send their only son to the United States when he was 14, to help him realise his Olympic dream.


It meant the family was seldom together, as mum and dad shared parenting duties.


They spent a small fortune, to the tune of over a million dollars, to nurture their son's gift - on top of government grants.


The $1 million incentive for winning Olympic gold, awarded under the Singapore National Olympic Council's Multi-Million Dollar Award Programme, will go some way towards helping repay their efforts.


But for the Schoolings, it was never just about them.


"This swim wasn't for me," said Joseph after his win.


"It's for my country."

Joseph Schooling's gold medal, the reward of years of effort. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The minute that made history for Singapore sport






Every time Joseph Schooling's head surfaced for a breath of air that Friday night in Brazil, a country thousands of miles away watched and held theirs.


The men's 100m butterfly race lasted less than a minute but at the end, both swimmer and Singapore sport came of age.


For Schooling, the piece of gold bearing the five Olympic rings hanging near his heart at the medal ceremony was the proof and reward of a life's journey.


He said: "It's been a tough road, not going to lie. The first guy through the wall is always bloody. I had to take that blow and I'm thankful and blessed that I have the ability to accomplish the things I dream of as a little kid.


"This moment is not about me, it's about my coaches, my friends, my family... This swim wasn't for me, it was for my country."

For the first time at an Olympic Games, the Singapore flag flies highest. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Where were you, future generations will hopefully ask, when Schooling won Singapore's first Olympic gold, first swimming medal, and showed the country that no dream is impossible. For the nation whose crescent moon and five stars were displayed on his black swim cap bobbing in and out of the Olympic Aquatics Stadium pool in Rio de Janeiro, this was a seminal moment 11 time zones away.


Historians will tell us that Schooling's time in the final was 50.39sec, that it was an Olympic record and the third-fastest time ever set. But numbers are binary and the beauty of his win lies in the trio of world-beaters he left in his wake.


For Schooling was majestic in the water as he beat - no, smashed, to use a phrase he likes - the best the planet had to offer.


The 21-year-old touched the wall 0.75sec faster than Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, all in a time of 51.14 - the first time three competitors were tied for silver at the Games.

Schooling on the podium with his medal. Joint silver medallists (from left) Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh applaud. PHOTO: REUTERS

The combined winning gap in this event from the last three Olympics, all won by Phelps, was 0.28sec. The last time he lost a major 100m fly final (Olympics and World Championships) was in 2005 when he ended 1.25sec behind compatriot Ian Crocker.

Schooling was supposed to feel the pressure, this was his first Olympic final - and in fact the first by any Singaporean male before him.

This was uncharted waters. Yet he showed no nerves  right before the biggest race of his life, slapping his chest as he walked confidently to the Lane Four starting block, three Singapore flags to his back and a nation behind him.


Much like the 100m fly heats and semi-finals, Schooling was explosive - his 0.61sec reaction time the joint-fastest of the eight finalists - and had the lead by the turn.

The Schooling cheer team: (front row, from left) Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, Mrs May Schooling, IOC executive board member Ng Ser Miang and chef de mission Low Teo Ping. In the back row are President Tony Tan (second from right) and minister Grace Fu (right). PHOTO: REUTERS


National coach Sergio Lopez, who mentored Schooling for five years at the Bolles School in Florida, said that was key. He noted: "He knew he had a chance. His goal was to break the race. I feel very proud. He believes in himself. He learnt not to hesitate, he knew he could do it."


The cavernous amphitheatre was packed to the rafters with around 10,000 fans, many carrying US flags, waiting for Phelps, the human leviathan and 22-time Olympic champion, to make his move.


But the 31-year-old American, swimming in his 11th race in Rio, looked spent. Instead it was Schooling, a decade younger, who powered home. His second split of 26.75 was also the fastest.


Schooling said: "I just tried to stick to my game plan, knew I would be out fast, it was all about how much heart you had coming home, trying to get your hand on the wall first and thankfully I could."

Joseph Schooling (right) prepares to get on the starting block during the heats. Beside him is American great Michael Phelps. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Both two-time 100m fly world champion le Clos and five-time Olympic medallist Cseh paid tribute to Schooling during the press conference while the biggest praise came from his idol Phelps.


"I think it'll be pretty cool to see someone else break 50sec...," said Phelps, glancing in Schooling's direction. "It's up to him where he wants to take it. Ball's in his court, as big as he wants to dream, as hard as he wants to work to be able to do whatever's in (the) head."


Besides receiving $1 million from the Singapore National Olympic Council's Multi-Million Dollar Awards Programme, Schooling's victory ended the Republic's 56-year wait for a second male Olympic medallist after Tan Howe Liang's weightlifting silver at the 1960 Rome Games.


Schooling said: "I've received a lot of support and that's phenomenal, can't describe what that means.


"I hope it (the gold medal) paves the way for sports in Singapore and hope it opens a lot of doors."


Joseph Schooling dives in. A nation watches.


The race begins.

Schooling soon has the lead.


Near the end, his lead is insurmountable.


Euphoria. He's clinched the gold.



How Schooling achieved
the impossible


He dominated the 100m fly finals right from the start, and delivered a stunning last 25m. This is how Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first gold and broke the Olympic record.



After the final, both Phelps and Schooling check out the scoreboard. PHOTO: AFP

The kid has now beaten the king






At the end of 50.39 seconds that made history, Joseph Schooling slapped the water in elation, and turned to hug his idol, swimming legend Michael Phelps.


Chad le Clos of South Africa also turned to pat Schooling's back and ruffle his hair.


Schooling, 21, beat three swimming greats to clinch Singapore's first gold medal and an Olympic record in the 100m butterfly final on the morning of Aug 13.


It was the culmination of years of hard work that saw the driven young swimmer chase his idol all the way to the podium in Rio de Janeiro.


Defending champion Phelps of the United States, five-time Olympic medallist Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and defending world champion le Clos all clocked 51.14sec to share the silver in a startling three-way tie.


The New York Times headline - "Somebody (His Name's Joseph Schooling) Finally Beats Michael Phelps" - is indicative of the big upset Schooling has achieved.

Before: The now viral photo of Schooling and Phelps, taken before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE SCHOOLING FAMILY


After: Phelps congratulates Schooling after the 100m butterfly final in Rio. PHOTO: REUTERS

In winning his first Olympic medal, Schooling also denied Phelps a clean sweep of all the individual events he competed in at the 2016 Games.


But Phelps, already hailed as the greatest of all time, looked relaxed and spoke encouragingly to Schooling after the medal presentation - where Schooling stood alone on the topmost podium while Phelps, le Clos and Cseh lined up in second place.


"Nobody is happy to lose, but I'm proud of Jo," Phelps said at a media conference after the race.


"It's faster than I went four years ago to win, but Jo's tough," Phelps said. "Hats off to him."


The veteran, who has said this will be his last Games, seemed excited to see fresh talent in the sport.


"What he's able to achieve is up to him. I'm excited to see how much faster he goes. I think it'll be exciting to see somebody else break 50 seconds again. I watched him swim last summer at the world championships. Ball's in his court. As big as he wants to dream," he said.


The admiration was mutual.

Schooling celebrating with the national flag as Phelps walks behind him. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Phelps has been Schooling's idol since he was a child, and in the rush of emotion post-race, one of the first things Schooling said was that it was an honour and privilege to race with the athletes alongside him in the pool.


"I'm really honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to race in the Olympic final alongside huge names like Michael, Chad, Laszlo, guys that have changed the face of this sport, guys that have won the most number of gold medals in Olympic history, a guy that will go down in our history books as the greatest of all time of any sport," he said.


The now viral photo of Schooling, a bespectacled lad of 13, posing beside the hulking Phelps shows how far the young swimmer has come.

Nobody is happy to lose,
but I'm proud of Jo.





- Phelps on Schooling


Back then, watching Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he was a star-struck fanboy.


Four years on in London, 17-year-old Schooling made his Olympic debut.


Phelps comforted Schooling after their 200m butterfly heats as less than 10 minutes before the race, Schooling's equipment was deemed to not fit Olympic regulations, and the then 17-year-old clocked a poor timing.


Schooling said: "I was walking behind Phelps after my race when he looked at me and asked, 'what's wrong?'


"I told him what happened and he hugged me and said, 'you're only so young, you still have a long way to go. It's a learning experience so keep your head high and just keep moving on'."

(From left) Phelps, Cseh, Schooling and le Clos with their medals. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Another four years, and the 21-year-old is now beating the legend.


In June this year, Schooling beat Phelps to win the 100m butterfly final at the Longhorn Elite Invite Meet in Austin, Texas.


Then he clinched gold at the Olympic pool, leading the pack the entire race, the only swimmer to clock under 51 seconds.


Perhaps he could do it because he simply relishes the competition.


When asked what Phelps said to him after the race, Schooling said Phelps told him: "Good job, that was a great race."


He added: "I told him to go four more years and he said 'No way'. Hopefully he changes his mind. I like racing him."






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