Schooling's 100 fly win signals Rio intent: Lopez

Joseph Schooling clocked 51.86sec to win the 100m butterfly at the Atlanta Classic on Friday in a result that national coach Sergio Lopez says is keeping the Singaporean swimmer on track to excel at the Rio Olympics.

The time was some way off his personal best of 50.96sec, but it was enough to see off United States swimmers Tom Shields (52.02) and Schooling's University of Texas team-mate Jack Conger (53.33).

It was also his first long-course race since the National Collegiate Athletic Association swimming meet in March, which is held in the short-course yards format.

Yesterday, he told The Sunday Times: "I'm happy with how I raced it. I'm fatigued from all the work we've been doing in and out of the pool so for me to step up and race that well at this point in the season is a huge confidence boost for me."

The result also delighted Lopez, who said: "The swim for Joseph is a reaffirmation that he is on the right track to swim very well in Rio. Any time you can break 52 seconds unshaved and untapered is a very good sign. Only a handful have been able to do that.

PROMISING SIGN

Any time you can break 52 seconds unshaved and untapered is a very good sign. Only a handful have been able to do that.

SERGIO LOPEZ, national coach, on the significance of Schooling's timing.

"I spoke with Joseph between (the) prelims and finals and he seemed very confident and happy. He does not have easy speed yet and once he rests well he will be ready to swim extremely fast.

"I am very happy for him and for what it can mean for Singapore at the 2016 Rio Olympics."

In an interview with US-based swimming website SwimSwam, Schooling, 20, said: "I tried changing my strokes a little bit, lifted my head a little more so I can plane out. (A time of) 51-anything would've really been good for me and I'm glad I split the race that way."

Schooling's latest time in the 100m fly is the 13th fastest in the world this year.

China's Li Zhuhao, who was second to Schooling in the 100m fly at the 2014 Asian Games, is top with a 51.24 effort clocked last month.

But Schooling's form is encouraging ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August, where he is tipped to win Singapore's first swimming medal.

Looking at times clocked from January last year, Schooling ranks fourth, behind Michael Phelps (50.45), Chad le Clos (50.56) and Laszlo Cseh (50.87).

He is the youngest of the four - le Clos is 24, while Phelps and Cseh are both 30 - and could still record a big jump in times, as he has done from 2013.

His 100m fly time has dropped from 52.33sec in 2013 to 51.69 in 2014, to his current best of 50.96 .

Schooling is now training with Eddie Reese in Texas as he prepares for Rio. The Sunday Times understands he could attend one of the remaining Arena Pro Swim Series as part of the lead-up to the Olympics.

He will not join the Singapore swim team in Paraguay for a centralised training camp, but will instead link up with them directly in Brazil.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'Schooling's 100 fly win signals Rio intent: Lopez'. Print Edition | Subscribe