Swimming: Joseph Schooling's record times in NCAA a boost to his confidence for the Olympics

Schooling's record times in NCAA fly a boost to his confidence for the Olympics

Joseph Schooling's explosive feats at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) swim meet have sparked talk of a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in August.

At the NCAAs, the University of Texas sophomore defended his 100 and 200 yards butterfly titles, winning both races in US Open record times.

He added another three golds in the relays and was tied with former Bolles School team-mates Ryan Murphy and Caeleb Dressel for the Swimmer of the Year award.

The 20-year-old has not shied away from the heightened expectations, openly declaring his intention to gun for the top prize in Rio.

"To me it's all about winning. I feel strong and I'm confident of my ability to perform," he told The Sunday Times.

Looking at his winning times in the 100 and 200 yards butterfly, Schooling certainly has reason to be optimistic.

Olympic races are held in long-course (50m) format. Using two online converters, his projected time ranges from 50.13-50.25sec for the 100m fly, and from 1min 51.34sec to 1:51.84 for the 200m fly.

Both times are a shade faster than those of Michael Phelps', currently the world's fastest in both the 100m (50.45) and 200m fly (1:52.94).

They also put him ahead of his other rivals, Chad le Clos (50.56, 1:53.62) and Laszlo Cseh (50.87, 1:53.48).

That said, while looking at these times, it is important to note that short-course races mean more turns. For instance, a 200m race would have only three turns in a 50m pool, while a 200-yard race would have seven turns in a 25-yard pool.

PUTTING IT IN PERSPECTIVE

He's one of the best in the world. The most important thing is for him to stay the course and not overdo anything.

SERGIO LOPEZ, national swimming coach, outlining the competitive situation for Schooling before the Rio Olympics.

Each additional turn allows Schooling to utilise his explosive dolphin kicks and shave off precious fractions of seconds.

Still, the fact that Schooling was able to defend both titles in record times, and do so in one of the most competitive meets in the world, speaks volumes of the Singaporean's pedigree, said national coach Sergio Lopez.

"He's one of the best in the world. The most important thing is for him to stay the course and not overdo anything," said Lopez, a 200m breaststroke bronze medallist for Spain at the 1988 Olympics.

That Schooling is the youngest among his rivals - Phelps is 30, le Clos is 23 while Cseh is 30 - also means his improvement gradient should be steepest.

For example, Schooling has gone significantly faster in his pet event - the 100m fly - over the years - from 52.33sec in 2013, to 51.69 in 2014, to his current best of 50.96, clocked last year when he clinched a bronze at the world championships. The time is also an Asian record.

His biggest rival is of course Phelps, who happens to be the greatest Olympian of all time with 18 golds.

That this is Phelps' last Olympics means the American will not be short of motivation to end his career on a high.

Phelps' natural gifts and insatiable appetite for dominance cannot be underestimated. His world-best times were clocked just 18 months after coming out of a two-year hiatus.

South African le Clos, the world champion in the 100m fly, is also raring to go. "I know I will be faster and ready to go," he said in an interview last month.

World 50m and 100m fly junior record holder Li Zhuhao, who finished second to Schooling in the 100m fly at the 2014 Asian Games, has also improved considerably.

The 17-year-old Chinese prodigy could yet spring a surprise on his established rivals.

However, history is against Schooling. No Asian man has ever finished in the top three of the 100m fly since it was included in the 1968 Games.

Which is why the swimmer is not resting on his laurels.

Just three days after the NCAAs, he was back in the pool, having resumed his schedule of training six days a week.

"Right now it's about getting back in the swing of things, like eating and sleeping well," he said.

"It's only four months till the Games of my life. I can relax all I want after I have done well and achieved what I've wanted."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 03, 2016, with the headline 'Golden glimmer for Rio'. Print Edition | Subscribe