Bruised by a poor result at a collegiate meet, Olympic champion Joseph Schooling took his first steps towards redemption when he swam his fastest 200m butterfly race in more than a year at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Atlanta.
The 21-year-old clocked 1min 56.45sec yesterday morning (Singapore time) to finish second, behind 23-year-old American Chase Kalisz (1:55.94). Venezuelan Marcos Lavado, 25, rounded up the top three with a 1:57.81 effort.
Schooling last went faster in the 200m fly at the 2015 World Championships, when he swam 1:56.11. His personal best is 1:55.73, clocked at the 2015 SEA Games.
Atlanta was also his first meet since a forgettable outing at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships in March.
Then, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) student failed to retain either of his 100- and 200-yard butterfly titles.
Yesterday, the fiercely competitive swimmer told The Straits Times: "What happened in the 200-yard fly event (he failed to make the final) in the NCAA was embarrassing and I never want to be in that situation again."
Days from Joseph Schooling's first event at the Swimming World Championships in Budapest in July.
Asked how he overcame the disappointment, Schooling added: "You just gotta keep pressing. Not every meet is going to go the way you want it to.
"Taking a step back and refocusing is what champions are made of."
He also went under the 2017 World Championships qualifying mark of 1:57.28, which means the butterfly specialist has qualified for four races at the biennial event - the 50m, 100m, and 200m fly as well as the 100m freestyle.
The winning 200m fly time at the last World Championships was 1:53.48, while the bronze-medal time was 1:54.10.
The Atlanta performance was all the more notable considering Schooling had not tapered for the meet, meaning he was swimming on the back of a heavy training load.
Swimmers taper by reducing their mileage in training, sometimes as much as 50 per cent, while doing shorter and faster sets.
This keeps their bodies rested and primed for peak performance at major meets.
"I am pleased with my time today. I was not concerned about the placing as the main objective was to meet the mark for the World Championships," Schooling said.
"It is good to have the 200m fly in my list of events again,"
It is back to the grind for the Singaporean, who had previously stated his desire to break the 100m fly world record in Budapest.
The world record is 49.82sec, clocked in the era of the now-banned "supersuits", while Schooling's personal best is his Olympic record of 50.39sec.
He will continue to train 11 times a week at UT under renowned coach Eddie Reese.
Aside from the World Championships, Schooling will also lead Singapore's charge at the Aug 19-30 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
The swimmer will be back in Singapore this month for mixed martial arts promoter One Championship's May 26 event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
He said: "We are about 77 days away from my first event in Budapest, there is still some work to be done but I am looking forward to a busy summer."