Olympics: 100m freestyle just Schooling's warm-up for main event

Joseph Schooling checking his time after his 100m free semi-final. While he was the slowest of the 16 swimmers in 48.70sec, he can take heart from his national record of 48.27 in the heats, in which he was sixth overall.
Joseph Schooling checking his time after his 100m free semi-final. While he was the slowest of the 16 swimmers in 48.70sec, he can take heart from his national record of 48.27 in the heats, in which he was sixth overall.PHOTO: REUTERS

On paper, Joseph Schooling should be slightly worried about what happened after his 100m freestyle swim on Tuesday, as the slowest of this event's 16 semi-finalists.

Not that he failed to make the final eight - this is neither his speciality nor where his focus is, and making the semi-finals with a national record to boot from the heats was already beyond expectations.

But that three races later, Michael Phelps commanded the pool in the 200m butterfly, beating those a decade younger and throwing down the gauntlet ahead of today's 100m fly heats.

Schooling stayed cool as ever - confident, even, that the 100m free has only put him in good stead for what he really came to Rio for.

"I think I'm off to a good start," he said shortly after his swim. "I feel warmed up for the 100m fly. I don't train for (the 100m free) so it was nice to be top 16 and nice to race these guys."

By "these guys", he meant some of the fastest freestyle specialists in history.

IN CONTROL

You just get your nerves out. I think that's the biggest thing... I know what the atmosphere is like, I know how I need to feel and how I need to adjust my body.

JOSEPH SCHOOLING, on what he took from swimming in the 100m freestyle.

There was the United States' 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian in Lane 8, reigning world champion Ning Zetao of China in Lane 1, and Australian Cameron McEvoy in Lane 5, whose 47.04sec clocked in April is the world's fastest time in a textile suit.

As far as Schooling is concerned, it is about getting the nerves out of his system, learning to adapt to the unique atmosphere of the Rio Games and keeping his eyes from straying to what goes on around him or in the lanes beside him.

The 21-year-old joked that he is so accustomed to the butterfly event that he nearly took a fly stroke as he surfaced from the water last night.

"You just get your nerves out. I think that's the biggest thing," he said of swimming the 100m free before his pet 100m fly.

"I swam a preliminary race, I swam a night race, I know what the atmosphere is like, I know how I need to feel and how I need to adjust my body. There's a lot of things I learnt today."

It is one of many lessons he has picked up from competing at a high level, both as a star swimmer for the University of Texas in Austin and as the best Singapore has to offer in the pool.

 
 

He said: "You just got to do your thing. You can't worry about anything else, (but) you can't learn that overnight - you've got to do it multiple times.

"It's what I've taken out of years and years of swimming at

 

this level... it's all a learning curve."

The likes of Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh await when Schooling attempts to become the first Singaporean man to make an Olympic swimming final.

But competition from the best will likely only get him pumped up.

He said: "I think my fly is looking smooth... With an atmosphere like this, and Michael and all beside me, I think I'll be a lot faster."

On paper, he should be slightly worried. But in reality, the boy is just going to spend his rest day in between "chilling out".

He may take time to see his mother, who is in Rio to support her only child. He will be watching YouTube.

As he said: "I like to be cool. I'm in control for the fly, that's for sure."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline '100 free just Schooling's warm-up for main event'. Print Edition | Subscribe