Once a star-struck teenager, Joseph Schooling now challenging swim idol Michael Phelps for Olympic medal

Then: A young Joseph Schooling with Michael Phelps before the 2008 Olympics. Now: The pair after their 100m butterfly heat in Rio.
Then: A young Joseph Schooling with Michael Phelps before the 2008 Olympics. Now: The pair after their 100m butterfly heat in Rio.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE SCHOOLING FAMILY, REUTERS

SINGAPORE - A fresh-faced Joseph Schooling poses next to his idol Michael Phelps in 2008, shortly before the Beijing Olympics that made the American swimmer a household name.

Fast-forward eight years, and Schooling is starting to get the better of his idol in the pool on the biggest sporting stage of all.

On Friday morning (Aug 12) Singapore time, the 21-year-old made history yet again by becoming the first Singaporean man to reach an Olympic swimming final.

At the Rio Olympics, he finished with a time of 50.83sec in the second 100m butterfly semi-final of the night - a new national record and the world's best time so far this year.

In doing so, Schooling was faster than a qualifying pack that includes Phelps, who has already won four gold medals in Rio.

Phelps has 22 of those in total, including three in the 100m butterfly from the past three Games.

This is the same Phelps whose race replays Schooling once watched endlessly, counting every stroke and underwater kick he made after executing a turn.

You would forgive Schooling for envying his idol's success, but the Singaporean told an ESPN documentary in 2012 that he was keen to chart his own career.

"I don't think I've ever daydreamed about Michael Phelps' career - but as far as his accomplishments go, I think everyone would love to have 14 gold medals at the Olympics, and I think over 20 golds at the world championships," he said.

"I just want to make my own career for myself. Michael Phelps may be my idol, but I just want to make my own career."

In 2011, Schooling beat Phelps' age-group (15-16 years) time over the 100 yards butterfly (short course). Beating markers laid down by his idol had long been an obsession, he said. "It's been a target of mine and I'm really happy to do that. It is a huge boost.

"Hopefully, I can get more of his records."

The next year, they raced alongside each other in the United States in what Schooling said was "a tick off on my bucket list". That was followed by a handshake.

Then at the London Olympics that year, Phelps comforted Schooling after their 200m butterfly heats.

Less than 10 minutes before the race, Schooling's equipment was deemed to not fit Olympic regulations, and the then 17-year-old clocked a poor timing.

Schooling said: "I was walking behind Phelps after my race when he looked at me and asked, 'what's wrong?'

"I told him what happened and he hugged me and said, 'you're only so young, you still have a long way to go. It's a learning experience so keep your head high and just keep moving on'."

Schooling had said after an early race with Phelps: "I know that as I get older, I'll become stronger, and I'll fare better beside him."

He did more than just fare better in June this year, when Schooling out-touched the Olympic legend in the 100m butterfly at the Longhorns Elite Invite in Texas.

On Friday, Phelps was seen giving Schooling a congratulatory tap after they faced off, side by side, in the 100m butterfly heats, which Schooling won.

What are the chances that they will repeat that on the podium after Saturday's (Aug 13) final (at 9.12am, Singapore time)?

 

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