Close scrutiny of Schooling comes with wearing national colours

Joseph Schooling after racing in the Men’s 200m freestyle at the Singapore National Swimming Championships on June 20, 2019.
Joseph Schooling after racing in the Men’s 200m freestyle at the Singapore National Swimming Championships on June 20, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

If Joseph Schooling had gone to Gwangju to compete in a professional swimming league as an individual using his own funds, his relatively poor performances there ought to be regarded as his personal problem (Schooling deserves encouragement, by Mr George Pasqual, Aug 6).

Unfortunately, that was not the case in the South Korean host city of the recently concluded 18th Fina World Championships.

Neither was it the case at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Nor will it be the case at the Tokyo Olympic Games next year.

That's why many Singaporeans erupted in sheer ecstasy when he won his and our country's first Olympic gold medal three years ago.

And that's why fans like me have good reasons to speak up when things appear to be headed in the opposite direction for our reigning Olympic champion a year before he defends his title.

As far as I know, none of Schooling's fellow gold medallists who competed in their pet events in Gwangju were knocked out of the heats, other than for reasons of injury or disqualification.

Sadly, I was not the least surprised by his ignominious exit, just as I wasn't shocked by his milestone achievement in Rio ('Live' support from home can spur our Olympics contenders, Aug 1, 2016).

Being supportive of Schooling's performances in the pool does not mean sugar-coating their sourish aspects - both in and out of the pool as the latter can adversely impact the former - all the time.

All mature and professionally minded athletes will understand that such close public scrutiny comes with the territory of wearing national colours.

Even more so for a swimming champion who has also been privileged with an unprecedented eight-year deferment from national service to fulfil his precocious talent at the highest level, and bring honour to himself, his family and his nation, with no less than a pre-tax state-funded reward of a million dollars awaiting another potential Olympic gold medal success.

It would be tragic if Schooling's historic 2016 win in Rio is seen as a mere flash in the pan should he fade further away from his own high standards of world-class competitiveness in Tokyo next July, especially with the pressure now firmly on his rival and hot favourite, Caeleb Dressel, to win the men's 100m butterfly event, and not on him as its defending champion.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2019, with the headline 'Close scrutiny of Schooling comes with wearing national colours'. Print Edition | Subscribe