Welcome home, Schooling

Big crowd welcomes butterfly king home

Singapore Chinese Girls' School students (from left) Eva Wee, Meagan Goh and Naomi Low bearing gifts they made for Schooling. Many fans were there with homemade gifts and banners thanking their idol. Changi Airport welcoming the aircraft Schooling wa
Schooling and his father, reunited after months apart, embracing each other at the airport. Mr Colin Schooling did not travel to Rio de Janeiro because of health concerns.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Schooling and his father, reunited after months apart, embracing each other at the airport. Mr Colin Schooling did not travel to Rio de Janeiro because of health concerns.
Schooling getting a kiss from his buddy Teo Zhen Ren at the airport.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Singapore Chinese Girls' School students (from left) Eva Wee, Meagan Goh and Naomi Low bearing gifts they made for Schooling. Many fans were there with homemade gifts and banners thanking their idol. Changi Airport welcoming the aircraft Schooling wa
Changi Airport welcoming the aircraft Schooling was on - SQ67 - with a water cannon salute on the tarmac. Airport staff also lined the transit area. PHOTO: CHANGI AIRPORT GROUP
Singapore Chinese Girls' School students (from left) Eva Wee, Meagan Goh and Naomi Low bearing gifts they made for Schooling. Many fans were there with homemade gifts and banners thanking their idol. Changi Airport welcoming the aircraft Schooling wa
Schooling spent more than an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with his supporters after he landed yesterday. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Singapore Chinese Girls' School students (from left) Eva Wee, Meagan Goh and Naomi Low bearing gifts they made for Schooling. Many fans were there with homemade gifts and banners thanking their idol. Changi Airport welcoming the aircraft Schooling wa
Singapore Chinese Girls' School students (from left) Eva Wee, Meagan Goh and Naomi Low bearing gifts they made for Schooling. Many fans were there with homemade gifts and banners thanking their idol. ST PHOTO: ALVIN CHIA

More than 500 fans throng Changi Airport early in the morning to meet Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist

For 50.39 seconds last Saturday, Joseph Schooling brought a nation together as Singaporeans hung on to his every move as he powered to victory in the 100m butterfly Olympic final.

Yesterday, over a similar distance at Changi Airport Terminal 3, there was little chance for another swift performance as more than 500 fans of Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist demanded an audience with their butterfly king.

By about 4am, 1-1/2 hours before Schooling's flight was scheduled to land, a sizeable crowd had formed at the arrival hall.

A fan shouted, probably in jest: "Every day Schooling day, no public holiday." His fellow supporters, mostly decked in red and ranging from primary school pupils to the elderly, were a tad more creative.

Many were there with homemade gifts, such as balloon bouquets and banners thanking their idol. Scarves and mini Singapore flags were popular choices for others. A group of pupils from Anglo-Chinese School (Junior), Schooling's former school, belted out the school song.

Retiree Chua Wee Meng, 70, had been at the airport since 10pm on Sunday. He might have summed up the sentiments of some when he said: "Schooling is handsome and I hope to get a photo with him. It's the best chance I've got."

At about 5am, Mr Colin Schooling arrived to loud cheers from fans, who acknowledged his role in moulding his son into a champion. Addressing the media, the 68-year- old businessman said: "Joseph's motto is 'dare to dream' and I think he's done a good job... Now we have to aim for the world record."

Deputy Prime Minister and former Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) president Teo Chee Hean entered the fray a quarter before 6am, joining sports officials, including SNOC vice-presidents Tan Eng Liang and Annabel Pennefather, in the welcome party.

The anticipation and excitement were palpable after a red "Landed" status appeared next to Schooling's flight, SQ67. When he finally emerged, there was a frenzy as the crowd roared and jostled for a vantage point. Several fans stood on chairs to get a better view, others screamed as Schooling waved at them.

There was a heartwarming scene as father and son, reunited after months apart, embraced each other while the crowd chanted "Joseph, Joseph". His father did not travel to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics because of health concerns.

After speaking to the officials present, Schooling addressed the crowd, thanking them for making the early trip. He said: "Thank you, everyone. This is not for me, this is for you. I love you guys."

He then spent more than an hour signing autographs and taking pictures with his supporters.

He told The Straits Times later: "I expected there to be people but didn't think there would be so many. It was an early Monday morning after all and people have school and work. It was amazing to see and I'm really thankful for their support."

His mother, Mrs May Schooling, who was on the same flight, said: "It's very heartening and (I'm) happy to see so many people. We are overwhelmed."

The festivities started even before Schooling got out of the plane, as Changi Airport welcomed the aircraft with a water cannon salute on the tarmac. Airport staff also lined the transit area, waving flags to welcome him.

Tampines Junior College student Chew Xinyi, who got Schooling's autograph on her mobile phone cover, said: "My friends will ask if I am crazy, and I'll fall asleep during lectures, but I think it's worth it... I want to see him live in person because he made history for Singapore."

National sprinter and 2008 Olympian Calvin Kang, 26, who was also present, said: "As a fellow athlete, it's a joyous occasion and I want to celebrate with everyone here. You can see that sport really brings people together."

• Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Nicole Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Big crowd welcomes butterfly king home'. Print Edition | Subscribe