With a year to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, swimmer Joseph Schooling was handed a "huge reality check" at the Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, yesterday as he crashed out of the heats in the 100m butterfly event.
Schooling, who won the 100m fly bronze at the world meet in 2015 and 2017, clocked 52.93 seconds to finish eighth in his heat. He was ranked joint-24th with Canada's Josiah Binnema and did not qualify for the evening's semi-finals.
He was well off his Rio Olympic winning time of 50.39sec and almost two seconds slower than the 51.04sec that won him Asian Games gold in Jakarta last year.
"I'm very disappointed with the time but I'm not going to dwell on this performance. Maybe I would have two years ago but no, there are a lot of positives to look at," the 24-year-old said after his race.
Schooling, who turned professional in March last year before graduating from the University of Texas, has been training at the OCBC Aquatic Centre with the Singapore team since early this year.
He had worked with Auburn University associate head coach Sergio Lopez when he was studying at Bolles School in Florida, before linking up with Texas Longhorns head coach Eddie Reese.
Schooling admitted changes to his coaching and training environments, as well as his lifestyle - where he went from a "college kid living by himself" to staying with his parents - have taken some getting used to.
He added: "It's been a huge transition year for me, moving back to Singapore. I've gone through a lot of things in the last four months that I've not experienced before.
"This was a huge reality check of what I need to do moving forward. All I can do is to fix the things I could have done better and do better."
Yesterday's 100m fly race wrapped up a week of double disappointment for Schooling, as he also missed out on the 50m fly semi-finals last Sunday after clocking 23.73sec to finish 20th overall. His personal best is 22.93sec set at the 2017 world championships.
Schooling's main challengers next year in Japan will be Caeleb Dressel of the United States, South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungarian teenage sensation Kristof Milak.
Dressel, 22, has been in scintillating form in South Korea, winning three golds in the 50m fly, 100m freestyle and men's 4x100m free relay, before smashing Michael Phelps' 100m fly record (49.82sec) with a 49.50sec swim in last night's semi-final.
Milak, 19, also turned heads after shattering Phelps' 200m fly world mark en route to his first world title.
With a year to the Olympic Games, a "motivated" Schooling knows that he has to dig deep to defend his gold medal in Tokyo.
"I have a lot of work to do going into next year.
"This is something I had to go through and it's better that this happened this year than next year," he said.
"This has put fire in my belly and I need to just keep moving forward in my preparations for next year. I will come back a new swimmer."