One swimmer, one nation - Seismic 2016: Singapore sport

The day a Singaporean kid ruled the planet

Joseph Schooling of Singapore with his gold medal from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men's 100m butterfly final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug 12, 2016.
Joseph Schooling of Singapore with his gold medal from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men's 100m butterfly final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug 12, 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

When Manny Pacquiao boxes, his entire country comes to a stop and Filipinos are glued to their television screens. When Joseph Schooling was about to swim his 100m butterfly final on the morning of Aug 13, my 72-year-old father was gently tending a community garden a few floors below our HDB apartment. Every man must have his own interests.

Upstairs, like a true sports nerd, I was reciting swimming records to my bemused mother and sister. They are both Manchester United fans whose purpose in life is to taunt this Liverpool diehard.

But that morning, there was no partisanship, just the three of us, together, fixated on a pool of water.

The cheers began the moment Schooling appeared on TV, walking out to his swimming lane, emotionless but ready.

In less than a minute, it was over. Schooling was first. My mother cheered, my sister whooped, I hollered. Then, minutes later, Schooling ascended to the top of the podium and a striking image formed on the TV screen.

 

The Singaporean was standing just below the Olympic logo, which is five interlinked rings that represent five connected continents. When he raised his arms in the traditional victory pose, it almost seemed that he was holding up the rings.

As if to say, a kid from anywhere in the world could rule the planet. Even if he came from our part of the globe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline 'The day a Singaporean kid ruled the planet'. Print Edition | Subscribe