Olympics: On National Day, a national best from swift Schooling

Joseph Schooling getting his Rio campaign off to a fine start with a national record and a personal best in the 100m freestyle yesterday. He finished second behind Canadian Santo Condorelli in Heat 6.
Joseph Schooling getting his Rio campaign off to a fine start with a national record and a personal best in the 100m freestyle yesterday. He finished second behind Canadian Santo Condorelli in Heat 6.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Joseph Isaac Schooling has a little bit of style. On Tuesday afternoon, Brazil time, the Singaporean swimmer inaugurated his much-anticipated Rio Olympics adventure by smashing his personal best in the 100m freestyle heats and cruising into the semi-finals as the sixth-fastest qualifier.

No fuss, he was just fast.

Schooling, who set a time of 48.58 seconds at last year's SEA Games at home, knocked 0.31 off that time by swimming 48.27sec. Quite fittingly, on National Day it was a national best. As he later smiled and said: "(National Day) is a great day to start racing. It's a happy day."

Swimming in the sixth heat in Lane 8, Schooling stripped off his red Singapore top, adjusted his white cap, loosened his arms and took off. He was fourth at the turn and finished second in his heat and even while this is not his favourite event - "the main goal is the 100m fly," he reminded us - he struck a confident pose later.

Dripping water in the mixed zone, the 21-year-old Singaporean said: "I was a little nervous (in the morning). But it feels different. It doesn't feel like an Olympics." His meaning was crystal clear: After his debut at the London 2012 Games, he "knows what it (the Olympic experience) feels like".

Earlier, on Monday, Schooling's compatriot, Quah Zheng Wen, whose personal best in the 200m butterfly was 1min 56.26sec, swam a quick 1:56.01 in the heats and was the 10th fastest.

In the semi-finals, he timed 1:56.11 and finished 10th overall.

Quah did not make his final but Schooling will be aiming to. He is probably the most gifted athlete from our island right now - he trains and studies at the University of Texas at Austin - and was watched by both his parents during his heat but in different cities.

His father, Colin, was back home in Singapore, glued to the television and told The Straits Times. "I was very impressed that he came sixth-fastest."

His mother, May, was in the stands in Rio. She was "anxious" before the race but later said: "I am very happy, the first hurdle has been passed."

Of course there are many more in Rio yet to come.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'On National Day, a national best from swift Schooling'. Print Edition | Subscribe