Two years ago in Indonesia, Joseph Schooling, a pimply teenager, took his first plunge in a SEA Games swimming meet – and surfaced with two gold medals.
His winning performance in the 50m and 200m butterfly generated a wave of excitement and promised more great things to come.
The 18-year-old did not disappoint.
At the just-ended Myanmar SEA Games at the Wunna Theikdi Swimming Complex, he garnered five golds and one silver to be crowned king of the pool and the event’s most decorated swimmer.
A lot has changed for Schooling since Palembang 2011. Despite the immense pressure and high expectations placed on his shoulders, he did not crack.
Instead, he responded with record-breaking times.
Said Singapore’s chef de mission Annabel Pennefather: “I am extremely happy for Joseph because he has met his objectives.
“He has had a lot of pressure placed on him before the Games.”
At Naypyidaw, Schooling could not afford to fail, especially since the government made a landmark decision two months ago to grant him deferment from national service.
Said the United States-based swimmer: “At the last Games in Indonesia, I wasn’t expecting anything. Of course, I wanted to win but I didn’t really set any goals.
“Now, everything has changed.
“Before the Myanmar Games, I even said I wanted to win all my events.
“Expectations were high, not only my own, but also of the country, and everyone else too.”
Indeed – but his six-medal booty should please his backers and fans.
Physically, he has grown not just in stature but also in physique. He has shot up 5cm in height to 1.84m and added 7kg to his 78kg muscular frame.
And, yes, he no longer wears L-sized Team Singapore uniforms. They are now XL.
Surprisingly, his growth in muscle mass has been unaided by weight-training.
Schooling, who trains with coach Sergio Lopez in Florida, uses body-weight exercises and medicine balls for dry-land training.
The final-year Bolles School student prefers to hold off on the weight training until he teams up with the strength and conditioning coach of the University of Texas, where he will begin school next year.
His success in the pool and good looks have also not gone unnoticed in the Games village.
Close to 100 fans and fellow athletes wanted to be photographed with him.
“It feels good to be recognised. It’s always good to feel that your efforts are being appreciated.
“I think everyone likes to be recognised for the hard work they put in,” he noted.
Once, during a warm-down session at a training pool, some fans interrupted him to have a picture taken.
He obliged but received an earful from one of the national coaches later.
In 2015, when the Games arrive in Singapore, he will be counted on to shine once again.
Perhaps, even more so.
He aims to take part in even more events, even though he has yet to decide on the number.
In Myanmar, he won gold medals in the 100m and 200m fly, 200m individual medley as well as the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays.
He bagged a silver in the 4x100m medley relay.
Said Schooling, who is ultimately aiming for a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics: “Two years ago, I didn’t swim the freestyle and this year I got the national 200m free record.
“Maybe, I’ll swim breaststroke in Singapore. Who knows, I could do well in it too.
“But, yes, I want to take part in more events, maybe in the 400m individual medley and the 100m backstroke.
“Hopefully, we can put together a good relay team too.”
One possible option is the 200m freestyle.
His personal best of 1min 49.47sec in that event was faster than Vietnam champion Hoang Quy Phuoc’s 1:50.64.
But his main aim now is a well-earned rest back home in Singapore with his parents Colin and May.
For the past three years, the Christmas period was typically the only time when the family could spend a couple of weeks together as he took a break from the pool.
They also plan on squeezing in a short trip to Ipoh, where his mother was born, before he returns to the US in the first week of next month.
Said Schooling: “I want some downtime, some quiet time, nothing too crazy. Just to relax and chill out like normal kids do.
“I will take a week off, and then slowly get back to training.”
For him, more battles lie ahead, starting with his much-anticipated debut at next year’s Asian Games.
At Incheon in South Korea, there will be more challengers to face.
But first up is a more familiar foe in the form of his father as they prepare for their annual 18-hole golf showdown within the next two weeks.
Said Colin: “On the golf course, he knows he can talk to me about everything.
“It’s how I spend time with my son as he is growing up really fast.”