Gold for Joseph Schooling: His first hours as champion

His first steps as Olympic victor

Top: Joseph Schooling is congratulated by 22-time Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps, after dethroning the American in the 100m butterfly final to capture his and Singapore's maiden Olympic gold medal. Above right: The man of the moment with (from
Joseph Schooling is congratulated by 22-time Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps, after dethroning the American in the 100m butterfly final to capture his and Singapore's maiden Olympic gold medal.PHOTO: REUTERS
Top: Joseph Schooling is congratulated by 22-time Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps, after dethroning the American in the 100m butterfly final to capture his and Singapore's maiden Olympic gold medal. Above right: The man of the moment with (from
The man of the moment with (from left) the trio that defined the current butterfly era: Phelps, Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and Chad le Clos of South Africa.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Schooling is ordained as Singapore's golden boy with American great by his side

From the second his hands touched the wall in Olympic record time, the kid's life - and Singapore sporting history - would be changed forever.

A powerful slap of the water, victorious fist pumps in the air, Michael Phelps leaning in for a congratulatory pat on the back, and the coronation was complete.

The kid has now beaten the king.

Winning your nation's first Olympic gold is naturally historic for your countrymen. But beating the greatest Olympian of all time, in the final individual race of Phelps' storied career, gets you the attention of the world.

Now they want to know who the kid is; now they are curious where he hails from.

GOLDEN SINGAPOREANS

It doesn't matter where you're from, really. This shows that people from the smallest countries in the world can do extraordinary things.

JOSEPH SCHOOLING, lighting the path for Singapore on the Olympic map.

In a flash, the pool deck transforms into unfamiliar territory, so the kid looks up into the stands in search of a familiar figure. Mum is seated too high up, so the kid just blows her a kiss for now.

A hug, and an 'I love you' will have to wait, for countless cameras and flashlights were going off before him. In the media mixed zone, more awaited to hear from the kid.

His mind is in a blank, so he simply speaks his mind.

"It hasn't sunk in," he said. "I'm sorry if I don't seem like I'm full of emotions right now. I don't know what to believe."

If the magnitude of his feat was hard to fathom, even for the challenger-turned-champion, seeing his flag raised in the Olympic Aquatics Stadium and hearing his National Anthem must have helped.

But even then, it all remained too unbelievable. Standing atop the podium with three of the world's finest butterfly specialists, the very people he has idolised and emulated standing one step below - surely this was too good to be true?

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    Somebody (His name's Joseph Schooling) finally beats Michael Phelps

    THE GUARDIAN

    Michael Phelps taught a lesson for once - by Singapore's Joseph Schooling

    THE TELEGRAPH

    I'm ready to retire, Michael Phelps says as American finishes second in three-way tie behind Singapore's Joseph Schooling

    DAILY MAIL

    He is human after all! Michael Phelps LOSES his last individual race and has to settle for sharing silver with TWO other swimmers in dramatic tie

He has worked tirelessly in pursuit of this moment. He admits it has been very hard and the "first one through the wall always gets bloody". But now that toil has turned into triumph, the kid does not quite know what to do.

So in his victory lap, he looks to another familiar figure. This time, the king who has been the kid's inspiration and obsession for so long.

He turns to Phelps and says: "Dude, this is crazy. I don't know how to feel right now. This is out of this world."

Phelps has been through this 22 times before, so he simply smiled, gave his successor a reassuring pat on the back and replied: "I know."

Having grown up in pursuit of the American's footsteps, to have Phelps close by as he took his first steps as champion was huge for the kid.

He said: "Just being beside (Phelps), walking that victory lap - I will really cherish that for the rest of my life."

Before a room packed with the world's media, king and kid would reminisce about their meeting in 2008 at the Singapore Island Country Club, when they chased mischievous monkeys who stole energy bars from the pool deck.

By then, it had been more than an hour since his most famous victory and countless headlines from the New York Times to the BBC carrying the kid's name had already hit the Web. His own national English daily would also add a gold medal to its masthead of its Facebook profile, unheard of in the broadsheet's 171-year history.

Journalists from Singapore would ask him questions, but those from Spain, Norway, Israel and America would also be curious about the kid who looked up to the king.

Said the new champion, who appealed with his predecessor to go four more years: "Without Michael, I wouldn't be at this point. He's the reason I wanted to be a better swimmer."

About an hour later, the kid was finally in Mum's embrace. Finally, on the phone with Dad, who from Singapore sent 'I love you's' over a short call.

Standing silently by the corner was coach Sergio Lopez, watching his pupil bask on the night of his life, and himself so emotional a simple handshake would evoke tears.

The kid has a message for those who want to know who he is and where he is from.

He said: "It doesn't matter where you're from, really. This shows that people from the smallest countries in the world can do extraordinary things."

The kid is Joseph Schooling, and he is going home to Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'His first steps as Olympic victor'. Print Edition | Subscribe