Singapore’s first gold

Joseph Schooling an inspiration to local sport community

Members of Singapore's sporting fraternity celebrating at the OCBC Aquatic Centre during a screening of Joseph Schooling's 100m butterfly race at the Rio Olympics. His unprecedented victory has captured the imagination of the nation and may inspire m
Members of Singapore's sporting fraternity celebrating at the OCBC Aquatic Centre during a screening of Joseph Schooling's 100m butterfly race at the Rio Olympics. His unprecedented victory has captured the imagination of the nation and may inspire more young athletes to hone their potential in sport, just as he was motivated by American swimmer Michael Phelps.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SNOC vice-president says Government and family both have roles to play in honing talent

Half a world away from where Joseph Schooling powered his way to Singapore's first Olympic gold medal, he was already creating the first ripples of the Republic's next wave of talent.

"I'm inspired by him," said 12-year-old swimmer Claresa Liau. "It shows that if you put in hard work you can do very well."

She was one of 60 spectators who gathered at the Chinese Swimming Club on Saturday to watch the men's 100m butterfly final.

"I want to go to the Olympics some day but right now my short-term goal is to make it to the SEA Games first," she said.

"Then afterwards we can maybe talk about going to the Olympics."

Schooling's historic achievement has inspired young hearts and lifted a nation. But while the victory happened in Rio, the bedrock of support must be laid at home.

Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president Annabel Pennefather believes Schooling's parents, Colin and May, were critical to the 21-year-old's success.

"I know how much they have supported him," she said. "Family support is important for an athlete, especially in the early stages - it's a long, lonely and tough journey. Family knows best how hard it is."

Ho Mun Cheong, president of Singapore Athletics, said: "Joseph's win has shown us that Singapore-born athletes can be champions in any sport."

The Republic's top women's tennis player Stefanie Tan, who watched the race before heading for a training session, said: "I'm extremely overwhelmed. He's the first Singaporean who has done it; the rest can do it as well.

LEARNING FROM THE BEST

Athletes have got to go out of their comfort zones. When you play the top teams in the world, you boost your confidence because you learn not just from victory but also from defeat. We have to put this into practice.

ANNABEL PENNEFATHER, Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president, on the exposure athletes receive by sharpening their skills against world-beaters.

MORE MEDALS ARE WITHIN REACH

I'm extremely overwhelmed. He's the first Singaporean who has done it; the rest can do it as well. We're just a little red dot and it really shows that all the sacrifices he's put in have paid off.

STEFANIE TAN, Singapore's top woman tennis player, on the prospect of other athletes repeating Joseph Schooling's gold medal-winning feat.

"We're just a little red dot and it really shows that all the sacrifices he's put in have paid off. And he's shown that what he has done is not impossible."

Calling Schooling "a very good example for younger athletes", Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) vice-president Francis Ng said: "We hope that our young paddlers born and bred here will look at Schooling and dream big. It all begins from there. The SCF will support them as best we can in the pursuit of that dream."

But Schooling's journey to an Olympic gold involved big sacrifices. When their only child was 14, his parents made the brave decision to send him to the Bolles School in Florida to study and train.

"Athletes have got to go out of their comfort zones," said Pennefather. "When you play the top teams in the world, you boost your confidence because you learn not just from victory but also from defeat. We have to put this into practice.

"That's what Joseph did - even when he lost he was learning, even when he finished eighth in his first event at the London Olympics. We don't understand how athletes train and plan and learn from defeat."

But Pennefather also feels that the Government needs to play a bigger role in propelling Singapore sports forward to greater heights.

"It's sad that the word 'sports' has been taken out of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY)," lamented Pennefather. The MCCY was previously known as the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and the former national hockey player feels this change might imply sport is not highly valued in Singapore.

"Someone once asked Joseph what he would like to do (after his swimming career), and he said he'd like to be the Minister for Sport in Singapore," she said.

But for now, it is all about a nation of young hopefuls who have been inspired by his golden deed. And while the feat itself took him just 50.39 seconds, the journey behind that victory took many years of hard work and support.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Schooling an inspiration to local sport community'. Print Edition | Subscribe