Gold for Joseph Schooling: Witnessing history | Commentary

Gold for Schooling: A powerful statement for the younger generation

Success in sports requires combined effort by the state and people supporting the athlete

Joseph Schooling, Olympic champion and record breaker.

Majulah Singapura, played for the first time ever at the Games.

You wouldn't have thought it was possible in your lifetime.

But I was there at the Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro to see and sing it, and it had taken 63 years for me.

It's been a long time to wait for my generation.

My generation worries that the young brought up in years of plenty do not have what it takes to continue to make Singapore succeed.

Perhaps we underestimate their mettle when challenged.

Schooling is younger than my three children and though I am no longer surprised by what they and their generation can achieve, this was special beyond words.

He beat the greatest Olympian swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps, and broke the Olympic record.

I am here on a trip sponsored by the Swiss watch company Omega which is the official timekeeper of the Games.

There are Australians, Chinese, South Africans, Germans and Swiss in my group, and they had watched their countrymen achieve Olympic glory in the events we attended.

I hadn't - yet - and as I sat among them watching the Games, I could only imagine what it might have felt like.

Before the race when I mentioned to them that Schooling had already made Singapore history by qualifying for the finals and had a shot at the gold medal, they had mainly sympathetic words of encouragement for me.

But he's up against Michael Phelps.

No chance, said one.

For the South Africans, it was Phelps against Chad le Clos.

Schooling? Singapore?

You wouldn't mention the two in the same breadth as those sporting greats.

Not any more.

I sang Majulah Singapura as loud as any of them sang their national anthems and it made me as proud of my country.

Among us is six-time Olympic medallist, former Australian swimmer Michael Klim.

When I asked him how it felt winning an Olympic gold medal for his country, he said that every athlete has a personal story to tell about his own effort and struggle to become champion.

But everyone feels the same pride to want to do well for his country.

I saw a lot of it here in Rio.

It is a wonderful sight watching some of the finest sportsmen and women test the limits of human ability and endurance.

But no modern athlete can do it on his own.

Behind every successful one is an organised effort supported by the state and its people.

It is a powerful force when individual ability is matched by collective excellence.

Joseph Schooling's achievement has the same imprint and he was right to dedicate his victory to his country.

I think there's also a larger point for Singapore.

My generation worries that the young brought up in years of plenty do not have what it takes to continue to make Singapore succeed.

Perhaps we underestimate their mettle when challenged.

They will do it differently, but who is to say they can't be world beaters?

When they have their own dreams to pursue and are supported in their efforts, they might surprise us still.

FOR LOVE OF COUNTRY

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'A powerful statement for the younger generation'. Print Edition | Subscribe