Swimming: All systems go for Joseph Schooling

Joseph Schooling has qualified for three events in Rio but he has confirmed that he will be participating in only two - likely the 100m and 200m butterfly events.
Joseph Schooling has qualified for three events in Rio but he has confirmed that he will be participating in only two - likely the 100m and 200m butterfly events. ST FILE PHOTO

He is ready and confident for Rio, while coach Lopez says the swimmer can only get better

Singapore swim king Joseph Schooling has declared himself ready for August's Olympic Games following his scintillating performance at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division 1 Men's Swimming and Diving Championships last week.

He said: "I'm in good shape, I'm headed in the right direction. I'm strong and I'm ready to go.

"It was a good meet to show everyone, and myself, where I am at. I clocked best times by pretty big margins. At this meet, the only way you can see whether you are improving or not is to see the times.

"I'm a lot fitter, I know how to race better, and it showed that I've matured mentally and physically.

"I hope it all translates well for this coming summer."

AIMING HIGH

I'm fit enough and good to take on the 200m fly again. I know that if I have the 200m background, I can definitely finish the 100m easily.

JOSEPH SCHOOLING, on the likelihood of him competing in the 200m fly at the Rio Games.

The Rio Games are still more than four months away, but Schooling served notice that he is a genuine medal prospect last week.

The Singaporean broke the meet records in both the 100-yard and 200-yard fly in Atlanta.

His 200-yard victory was particularly impressive, won on the back of a strong final 25-yard stretch when the University of Texas sophomore stormed past team-mate Jack Conger to touch home in 1min 37.97sec.

And that explosive performance - which smashed the previous record (1:39.33) by more than a second - puts Schooling in a good position to win Singapore's first Olympic swimming medal in August.

Impressed but not surprised at Schooling's feats, national coach Sergio Lopez said: "The NCAA is the hardest meet that anybody can go for, harder than the Olympics, because it's four days of high-level competition. But at the Olympics, you go there to swim one or two events.

"I think he's ready and prepared (for the Olympics)."

Yet, despite his record-breaking swims in Atlanta and his undoubted confidence, Schooling will have to swim an almost perfect race if he is to win in Brazil.

Lopez said: "He cannot make any mistakes on his break-out, turns, his approach towards the turns, and he (must) be able to hold his strokes in the last 10m in the water.

"Those are the things he's got to work on every day, because in the Olympics, (races) are won by the touch."

Although Schooling has qualified for three events - 100m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly - for the Olympics, the 2015 Sportsman of the Year also confirmed that he will be racing in only two.

While saying that it would be "a toss-up between the 200m fly and 100m free", it was clear that he was leaning towards the 200m fly.

"I've always focused on the 100m fly on the past few years. But right now, I'm fit enough and good to take on the 200m fly again," he said.

"I know that if I have the 200m background, I can definitely finish the 100m easily."

More significantly, Schooling, at 20, is only going to get better, stronger and faster.

Said Lopez: "He knows he can be much stronger now because of the weights."

The World Championships 100m fly bronze medallist agreed, saying: "This year, I'm lifting a lot more weights. That paid off, especially towards the end of the meet. I thought on the last day I'd be hurting."

Lopez also noted one other edge for Schooling: "The advantage for Joseph is that not many of those (Olympic) swimmers (Michael Phelps, Laszlo Cseh) are between 18 and 20.

"Joseph has a better chance to make a big improvement on his time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2016, with the headline 'All systems go for Schooling'. Print Edition | Subscribe