Coronavirus pandemic: Olympics postponement

Extra time on Schooling's side

Current signs are good and coaches believe he can mount even better title defence in '21

Singapore's first Olympic champion Joseph Schooling will return to Singapore to train this week because pools in the United States are closed as a precautionary measure. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO
Singapore's first Olympic champion Joseph Schooling will return to Singapore to train this week because pools in the United States are closed as a precautionary measure. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Tokyo 2020's postponement to next year could be a blessing in disguise for Singapore's only Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling - he would have extra time in his bid to retain his 100m butterfly title.

The 24-year-old had been training in Virginia with mentor Sergio Lopez since February. But, with swimming pools in the United States closed from Tuesday for at least a month as a precautionary measure against the global coronavirus pandemic, he will return to Singapore later this week.

After serving a 14-day stay-home notice, he will train with the National Training Centre swimmers at the OCBC Aquatic Centre until there is clearance to resume training in the US.

The Singapore Swimming Association has made plans to create two 25m short courses either side of the bulkhead and continue training under the current guidelines of not more than 10 in the pool.

National swimming head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer told The Straits Times: "Jo will be able to train after his isolation period, as long as we can access the facilities here, and that is why he is coming back.

"I think this extra year will do really good things for him.

"There is still a stretch to go. But, going by what he has done in the last two to three months and how excited he is, I think he is one of those who looks at the situation and thinks, 'Okay, I get another year to do some great work before I step on the blocks in Tokyo 2021.'

"He really seems to have found his mojo again and did some great training sessions. Just before he left Singapore, he started to go really fast again. He was excited and still is, the last time I heard from him."

Schooling admitted in an exclusive interview with ST last month that he had fell out of love with swimming since creating history for Singapore at Rio 2016. He put on extra kilos and has not gone close to his Olympic record of 50.39sec.

His last competitive 100m fly time of 51.84 came when he won the race at the SEA Games and qualified for Tokyo 2020 last December.

The US move has reignited his competitive fire, but Widmer declined to speculate if the Olympics would have come too soon for Schooling to make a medal charge had it started as scheduled in July.

He said: "Some people were already handing out medals to people like (Caeleb) Dressel.

"You can be the world record holder, the world champion from last year, have the best preparation, and get sick and be out.

"That is why we have the Olympics, the world championships. They are unpredictable and you never know the outcome."

Like Widmer, Lopez attested to Schooling's positive mindset and backed the swimmer to make the most of the extra time.

He told ST: "We just had lunch, and he is positive. He came here to find a peace of mind and rediscover his love to swim and race, and he is doing very well in training.

"He has more time now but we were on the path of doing something good this summer. He has more time to train and get better, but it is the same for everyone else.

"Instead of tapering for an Olympics this July and August, we can now try new things when we can start training together again.

"With the postponement, athletes can finally be at peace. Perhaps it is good that everyone can now rest their bodies and minds until things get back to normal again."

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Schooling expressed sympathy for those affected by the upheaval, including athletes unable to train owing to lockdowns implemented to curb the spread of the disease, as well as officials in charge of putting the Games and teams together.

He added: "As athletes, we need to focus on being prepared and giving ourselves the best possible chance of success at the largest sporting event in the world.

"This decision gives us clarity as we recalibrate and work out the best plan around the new dates."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline Extra time on Schooling's side. Subscribe