SINGAPORE - National swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen will enlist for national service as their long-term NS deferments have ended, said the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in a statement on Thursday (Sept 16).
The enlistment process for Schooling, 26, and Quah, 24, recommenced from Aug 31, when their deferments ended.
“As their deferment until 31 August 2021 has ended, both Mr Schooling and Mr Quah will proceed to fulfil their NS obligations, as agreed to when they applied for deferment,” said Mindef.
“They will be enlisted once the necessary pre-enlistment procedures have been completed.”
Schooling said on Thursday that he was “very grateful” for the Government's “non-wavering support” in his swimming career, and said he would not have achieved the results he did without deferring his NS.
“As a son of Singapore, I am honoured to serve my country,” he said. “More importantly, now more than ever, my family needs me. It is time for me to fulfil my filial duties.”
Quah also expressed his gratitude to the Government for “the privilege” of earlier deferments. “I am always thankful for the opportunity to represent Singapore – whether it is through enlisting or swimming,” he said.
Mindef reiterated in its statement that long-term deferment from full-time NS is granted “very selectively for exceptional sportsmen”, assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions like the Olympic Games and who are able to bring national pride to Singapore.
Each appeal for deferment is assessed based on stringent criteria in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), it added.
Other than the two swimmers, only one other individual in the last 15 years has been granted such long-term deferment – sailor Maximilian Soh, for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Schooling and Quah, whose deferments began in 2014 and 2015 respectively, enjoyed good outings at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Schooling won a historic first Olympic gold medal for Singapore in the men's 100m butterfly while also qualifying for the 100m freestyle semi-final. Quah, meanwhile, qualified for the semi-finals of the 100m and 200m fly - placing in the top 16 of each event.
However, both saw disappointing outings at the Tokyo Olympics in July.
Schooling's defence of his 100m fly title crumbled after he finished last in his 100m fly heat in 53.12sec and ranked 44th out of 55 swimmers. In the 100m freestyle event, he placed 39th.
Quah finished 22nd in the 100m backstroke and 200m fly, and 34th in the 100m fly, and did not achieve any personal best.
Both swimmers had said in interviews after their swims in Tokyo that they were keen to race in several high-level competitions scheduled for 2022, such as the World Championships (May), Commonwealth Games (July) and Asian Games (September).
Schooling said being called up to enlist before then would be "tough for sure" as he felt he had "so much more left in the tank" as an athlete.
He reiterated on Thursday that his intention to continue swimming remains the same, and he has resumed training while he continues to go through the pre-enlistment procedures.
Badminton player Loh Kean Yew, diver Jonathan Chan, sailor Ryan Lo and table tennis player Clarence Chew competed in Tokyo and were among the sportsmen who trained with support from Mindef during their full-time NS.
Loh, who completed his NS in October 2018, said that he was able to juggle his training and NS commitments thanks to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Sportsmen Scheme, which gives athletes time off for training and overseas competitions during NS.
The 24-year-old, who was a transport operator in the army, said he was able to have regular three-hour training sessions in the mornings under the scheme.
“I had opportunities to train, albeit at a reduced load, and made the best out of the time on court and the time in camp,” said Loh.
He added that Schooling and Quah’s achievements “have encouraged and inspired many Singaporeans, myself included, to aim towards greater heights in sport and to continue to bring glory to Singapore”.
Quah said then he was "very motivated" to compete at the elite level, and felt he had "a lot left to accomplish and to give to the sport".
On Thursday, the 24-year-old, a multiple medallist at the SEA Games, said he was aiming to compete at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, as he works towards qualifying for the 2024 Olympics, saying that he would work with Mindef, MCCY, the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA), coaches and support teams "to see how I can continue to pursue these plans and train at elite levels while fulfilling my national service".
Responding to queries from ST, SSA said that the association is "supportive of Joseph’s and Zheng Wen’s enlistment and subsequent plans".