Rare Parliament honour for Schooling

Schooling taking a photo with a crowd of supporters yesterday at Changi Airport's Terminal 3, where some had been waiting since 10pm the previous night. On an emotional and event-filled day for the swimmer, it was also announced that his NS will be d
Schooling taking a photo with a crowd of supporters yesterday at Changi Airport's Terminal 3, where some had been waiting since 10pm the previous night. On an emotional and event-filled day for the swimmer, it was also announced that his NS will be deferred until at least the next Olympic Games.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Olympic champion comes home to joyous welcome; NS deferred until next Games

Joseph Schooling's habit of making history continued outside the pool yesterday as he became the first sportsman to be formally congratulated by the Singapore Parliament for his Olympian efforts that captured the nation's imagination.

Hours after he flew into Singapore, proudly displaying the country's first-ever Olympics gold medal, the 21-year-old stood in Parliament, where a motion was moved to hail and acknowledge his achievement.

"This House congratulates swimmer Joseph Issac Schooling for his achievements at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games," Parliament noted.

The country's leaders paid tribute to the moment last week when the swimmer's victory in the 100m butterfly event meant that Majulah Singapura was played at the Olympic Games' medal ceremony for the first time.

"It was a moment of great national pride, not just for Joseph and his family, but for our entire nation," said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also president of the Singapore National Olympic Council. Mr Tan had been present by the pool to watch the swimmer make history.

He also paid tribute to Schooling's parents, Colin and May Schooling, who had dedicated their lives to supporting his dream. "It takes a village to raise an Olympic champion, they say - but, above all, it takes a family," he said.

Schooling later told reporters that he was honoured to be the first sportsman to be acknowledged in this manner by Parliament. "It is pretty cool for me and my family to have that honour and (the) chance for everyone to say the things that they said in front of us. I had goosebumps. It is a privilege."

On an emotional and event-filled day for the young swimmer, it was also announced that his national service (NS) will be deferred until at least the next Olympic Games, four years from now, to give him the best chance to defend the crown he wrested from the likes of swimming legend Michael Phelps.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Schooling's request to extend his NS deferment had been approved by the Armed Forces Council as he had fulfilled all the necessary conditions.

"Joseph can now set his sights on 2020 to defend his Olympic title and win more national glory for Singapore," Dr Ng said in a Facebook post. "Let us all wish him many more achievements and success."

Schooling, himself, got a sense of the powerful emotions his victory has evoked from the moment his flight touched down at 5.35am yesterday. It was greeted by a water cannon salute on the tarmac that Changi Airport had arranged.

More was to come as he walked in to face a sea of supporters chanting his name at the arrival hall of Terminal 3. Some had been waiting for him since 10pm the previous night.

He patiently posed for wefies, signed autographs and received hugs and backslaps.

More greetings are in the works. Sports Singapore is planning an open-top bus victory parade on the streets to celebrate the University of Texas student's achievements.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who was in Rio to witness his historic feat, said in a Facebook post that the win could have a positive impact beyond the sporting arena.

Dr Tan said: "It shows that one can achieve the extraordinary if one follows one's passion. I am confident that Schooling's win will inspire more young Singaporeans to follow their dreams.

"Singapore is very proud of Schooling and his supporting crew for making history for Singapore."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Rare Parliament honour for Schooling'. Print Edition | Subscribe