Gold for Joseph Schooling

Historic moment for Schooling, historic moment for Singapore

Emotions running high among the crowd at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in Singapore, as Schooling stands on the winner's podium, hand to heart, with the National Anthem being played during the 100m butterfly victory ceremony in Rio. Schooling's winning tim
Schooling's winning time of 50.39 seconds at the men's 100m butterfly final is a new Olympic record. In a nod to it, the number 5039 was sold out at Singapore Pools shortly after.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Emotions running high among the crowd at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in Singapore, as Schooling stands on the winner's podium, hand to heart, with the National Anthem being played during the 100m butterfly victory ceremony in Rio. Schooling's winning tim
Emotions running high among the crowd at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in Singapore, as Schooling stands on the winner's podium, hand to heart, with the National Anthem being played during the 100m butterfly victory ceremony in Rio. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

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, yesterday 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.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that Parliament plans to move a motion to congratulate him on his gold, and express support for the rest of Team Singapore competing at the Rio Games.

"The motion will be a formal recognition of his achievements by Parliament," said PM Lee, who spoke to Schooling yesterday.

"I hoped he would be there with his family and he said he would."

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.

"It's for my country," said Joseph after his win.

He is scheduled to return home at 5.30am tomorrow. Apart from a date in Parliament, there are plans to take him on an open-top bus ride. It will be a chance for a nation to pay tribute to their hero.

It will be another chance for Singapore to relive that remarkable night in Rio and never forget the magic of Joseph Schooling .

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Historic moment for Schooling, historic moment for Singapore '. Print Edition | Subscribe