More at stake for Schooling than just his Olympic title

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

The best thing that Joseph Schooling and his supporters can do for our Olympic swimming champion's quest to retain his 100m butterfly crown at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is to stop making excuses for his run of losses at the world level.

When he lost to Caeleb Dressel at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, Schooling said he had slacked off training after his Olympic triumph, even though he appeared confident about breaking Michael Phelps' 2009 world record heading into the competition.

Now he blames the tough transition in his personal and professional life from the US to Singapore for his ignominious exit in the heats of the 2019 Fina World Championships in Gwangju, even though once again, he appeared ready for battle.

How Schooling has handled Dressel's meteoric rise - from being his Bolles high-school teammate to the greatest swimming sprinter of all time - stands in sharp contrast to the easy calm and confidence shown by the reigning Olympic champion in the men's 100m freestyle, Australian Kyle Chalmers.

Like Schooling, Chalmers rose from relative obscurity to stun the world in the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Unlike Schooling, he has kept his head down, recovered from heart surgery two years ago, and gave Dressel his sternest test in Gwangju to claim silver and a new personal best time.

Chalmers will retain his Olympic title in Tokyo next year if he can improve his dreadful start.

Schooling stands an outside chance to repeat his Rio heroics, despite his current poor form, if he and his supporters can start getting real and honest for a change, including over the unnecessary distractions in his life since 2016, ranging from his many public engagements to his swim school.

The young man needs to understand that his lucrative endorsement deals, for example, will disappear as fast as they came if he fades further away from world-class competition.

The same goes for his national service exemption right up till the 2024 Paris Olympic Games if he fails to meet certain performance criteria in Tokyo next year.

Beating Dressel will not be easy, to be sure. Whether our Olympic champion is up for the fight to try and retain his crown with a bang, or surrender with a whimper is entirely up to Team Schooling.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2019, with the headline 'More at stake for Schooling than just his Olympic title'. Print Edition | Subscribe