Time stops... then a nation celebrates

Juying Primary School pupils cheering along with teachers and parents, while waiting for the live telecast of Schooling's race yesterday. Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Education Low Yen Ling (in green T-shirt) was also present. "Do you want
"Do you want to put the medal on? Take a picture?" Schooling asked President Tony Tan Keng Yam. Dr Tan, who is in Rio to support Singapore's athletes, gamely agreed and said with a laugh: "This is the only time I will ever wear an Olympic gold medal."ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Juying Primary School pupils cheering along with teachers and parents, while waiting for the live telecast of Schooling's race yesterday. Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Education Low Yen Ling (in green T-shirt) was also present. "Do you want
Juying Primary School pupils cheering along with teachers and parents, while waiting for the live telecast of Schooling's race yesterday. Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Education Low Yen Ling (in green T-shirt) was also present. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

The island yesterday felt the full power of sports as a unifying force. For 50.39 seconds, shortly after the clock struck 9.13am, the Republic stood still, gripped and enthralled by a flying fish, a son of Singapore, who won the country's first Olympic gold medal.

Some screams were louder than others at the different locations that The Sunday Times visited. But uniformly, across the island, Singaporean hearts swelled with joy and pride as they gathered to watch Joseph Schooling make history.

At the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, more than 150 people had their eyes glued to a large LED screen as the 21-year-old touched home first to win the 100m butterfly final. And, in a typical sign of the times, they applauded and whipped out their smartphones to capture the moment.

Their celebration of the Republic's first Olympic gold medal was a quiet one, but the smiles on their faces spoke volumes about what Schooling's feat meant to them.

Engineer Chandra Segaran, 58, who was beaming from ear to ear after the race, said: "I thought qualifying for the finals was a big achievement, but for a tiny nation like Singapore to get a gold medal at the Olympic Games... it is fantastic."

Former national swimmer Joscelin Yeo, who was at the centre with her family, said: "I am at a loss for words; I am just so happy, so proud of him." At the OCBC Aquatic Centre, about 50 Singaporeans erupted into loud cheers as Schooling finished ahead of the United States' Michael Phelps, South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, to win gold in a new Olympic record time.

She and other supporters stood at attention and sang as the Singapore National Anthem was played at the medal award ceremony.

At the Chinese Swimming Club, a group of 60 - mostly young swimmers after their morning training, and their parents - roared in unison.

Methodist Girls' School student Gan Ching Hwee, who is a fan of five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky, is now a convert.

The 13-year-old said: "He (Schooling) was about a body length ahead of the rest, and I was cheering him on. He did Singapore proud. My goal is to go for the 2020 Olympics, and I hope I can win like him."

 

Football coach D. Ramanathan, 44, who joined a crowd of 120 at Woodlands Stadium for a screening, added: "This is going to have an impact on Singapore like we have never seen before. Previously, when we won the Malaysia Cup (in 1994), every boy started to play football. It is going to be the same thing."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong congratulated Schooling in a Facebook post, saying: "My heartiest congratulations to Joseph Isaac Schooling for his historic gold medal win, and Olympic record of 50.39 seconds for the 100m butterfly! This is Singapore's first Olympic gold medal ever, and also our first medal for #Rio2016.

"It is an incredible feat to compete among the world's best, stay focused, and emerge victorious. Congrats once again to Joseph, you made us very proud today."

•Additional reporting by Yogaraj Panditurai, Jean Iau and Alvin Chia

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Time stops... then a nation celebrates'. Print Edition | Subscribe