Swimming: Free to shine

Olympic 100m butterfly champion Joseph Schooling diving in for his 100m freestyle heat in Rio, in which he clocked a national record of 48.27sec.
Olympic 100m butterfly champion Joseph Schooling diving in for his 100m freestyle heat in Rio, in which he clocked a national record of 48.27sec.ST FILE PHOTO

Schooling cracks 50-yard US Big 12 mark to prove he has the chops in the fastest stroke

In 18.76 seconds, Olympic 100m butterfly champion Joseph Schooling showed he is no one-trick pony, as he shattered an eight-year-old freestyle record on Thursday at the Big 12 Swimming and Diving Championships.

That time was all it took for the University of Texas (UT) student to win the 50-yard race, in the process eclipsing United States swimmer Jimmy Feigen's Big 12 Conference record of 18.84sec, set in 2009.

Feigen is a freestyle sprinter who was part of the US 4x100m free team who clinched gold at the Rio Olympics, while Schooling specialises in the butterfly.

His UT team-mates Jack Conger (19.27) and Brett Ringgold (19.29) were second and third respectively.

The 21-year-old Singaporean said yesterday: "I am happy with the times that I have clocked so far. Breaking a record is a bonus. I feel good and I am at (the level) where I want to be.

"The last few months have been about working on the details and getting them right. It is working well and I just need to remain focused and do well in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) swimming championships next month."

The Big 12 Conference comprises 10 schools from five states in the US, while the NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving Championships, which Schooling will compete in next month, boast the top swim colleges in the US.

High performance director of the US swim team Keenan Robinson, who was invited by the Singapore Swimming Association to conduct talks here, believes Schooling has both the aptitude and attitude to blossom in the freestyle.

After all, he reached the 100m free semi-finals in Rio, clocking 48.7sec to finish last among 16.

Leading swimming website Swimswam's time converter also translated Schooling's 18.76sec in the 50 yards free to 21.62sec in the 50m free, a time that would have placed him seventh in the world last year.

Robinson said: "Our sport doesn't lie. Times are times, he just knocked off his whole entire collegiate team in the 50 freestyle. He's well on his way to a path that would indicate potential opportunities to win a medal in the freestyle events.

"He was trained to be successful in all four strokes. From a technical standpoint he's a very talented, technically good swimmer."

Yet, Robinson argued, perhaps what matters more is Schooling's ability to turn it on when it matters.

The 36-year-old, who oversaw 23-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps' training, said: "There are swimmers and there are racers. Joseph is a racer. When it counts, he brings the heat.

"(Both Phelps and him) are competitive. They don't like losing, it's not in their vocabulary."

While the future looks bright for Schooling, who is trained by renowned coach Eddie Reese at UT, Robinson said the Singaporean must not get carried away as sponsors and fans fawn over him.

"He can never forget those things that got him to the podium in Rio - his preparatory work, his work away from the pool, listening to his coaches, paying attention to the details, aggregating those extra little 1 per cent activities to make him better," he noted.

In 2008, Robinson was here with the US swim team to acclimatise for the Beijing Olympics. That training camp led to the famous picture of Phelps meeting a bespectacled 13- year-old Schooling, a photo that is now enshrined in Olympic folklore.

Reflecting on his interaction with Schooling then, Robinson said: "He was just a little guy. I guess we should have been aware of him a little bit more."

Nine years on, it is safe to say Robinson, and the world, is becoming more aware of Schooling, who does not seem to be slowing down in his quest for glory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'Free to shine'. Print Edition | Subscribe