Feted as Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist and with an Olympic record to his name, Joseph Schooling is now aiming for a world record in the 100m butterfly.
But in a reflective mood yesterday when he met the Singapore media, he remembers the time when he nearly gave it all up.
That was during the 2012 London Olympics, which he described as the "lowest point" in his life.
I wasn't going to get this tattoo unless I medalled. At the very least I needed a bronze, I think, for myself to get this tattoo. This means something special. Even the tattoo on my back - everything I put on myself has deep meaning. My arm is burning right now... I don't feel the need to get another tattoo right now.
JOSEPH SCHOOLING, on the new tattoo of the Olympic rings on his right arm.
Only minutes before his 200m butterfly heat, he was told that his cap and goggles were not on the list of approved equipment.
He hastily found replacements but was rattled. In the end, he clocked more than two seconds off his then-personal best time of 1min 56.67sec, and failed to make the semi-finals.
MARRIED? THAT'S NEWS TO ME
I found it kind of funny, my mum got really mad at me last night because I was apparently married to some girl - some news outlets in Hong Kong or New York had an article about me being married. I'm not married, I'm still trying to find out who this wife of mine is.
SCHOOLING, on stories about his love life. He has been very private about whether or not he has a girlfriend.
HUGE WEIGHT OFF HIS SHOULDERS
I'm very honoured and privileged to be granted this deferment... I worked hard for it. This will give me a push for 2020. I'd rather be thinking about 2020 now for the long run and having this deferment kind of lifts the weight off my shoulders.
SCHOOLING, on having his national service deferred till after the 2020 Games.
"For me, 2012 just sucked," he said. "It did not really motivate me to do anything. If anything, it motivated me not to try anymore. I was too young to comprehend what was going on.
"I was injured, I couldn't swim, I had a bad attitude - those three things did not combine well."
He credits his parents - Colin and May - friends and coach Sergio Lopez for digging him out of the abyss.
He was also inspired by American swimmer Michael Phelps.
"I saw how people looked up to him and I wanted to be in that position. I wanted to be in the position where people looked up to me and used me as a role model," he said at the Sports Hub's Black Box Auditorium.
On Aug 12, Schooling beat Phelps to win the Olympic gold medal in Brazil.
He certainly was an inspiration yesterday morning when he returned to his alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) in Winstedt Road.
He arrived just before 8am to screams and cheers from 1,607 pupils, including those from other schools in the ACS family.
Addressing them at the auditorium, he said he was gunning for Phelps' world record time of 49.82sec - even if that 2009 mark was set while wearing a hydrodynamic suit that is now banned.
His Olympic gold medal winning time of last Saturday, 50.39sec, is the fastest ever without a supersuit.
"It's great to achieve your goals but you can't be content with achieving your goal for too long. You've got to shoot for bigger and better things," he said.
"I fail more than I succeed," he added disarmingly.
In the evening, he was at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, scene of his nine-gold haul at last year's SEA Games, to meet national aquatic athletes.
Whether primary school pupils or national swimmers, all wanted a moment with the history-maker and rushed to get an autograph, take a wefie and even touch his medal.
Schooling sportingly obliged as many as he could.
In between the two events, he got a souvenir to mark his achievement - a tattoo of the five Olympics rings on his right bicep.
It was inked at a parlour in North Bridge Road.
It joins a tattoo of the Texas Longhorns, the logo of the swim team at the University of Texas he attends, on his left shoulder.
The homecoming celebrations will continue tomorrow at 9.30am when an open-top bus parade is planned for Singapore's first Olympic champion.
The bus will go past Old Airport Road, Marine Parade and Singtel Comm Centre before ending at Raffles City.
Apart from gunning for Phelps' record, Schooling also told the media about his big plans for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
He signalled his intention to take on more events at the next Olympics.
In Rio, he swam in two - the 100m fly and 100m freestyle.
"I think I can medal in the 200m butterfly. I've been training the 200m fly, that's why I can finish the 100 well," he said.
"I did the 100m free, first time at the Olympics, and finished in the top 16. I think I have a good chance in that.
"I want to do the 200m individual medley also."
He will also train for the Tokyo Games free from national service commitments after Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday that the swimmer's stint will be deferred by four more years.
On the extension, Schooling said: "I'm very honoured and privileged to be granted this deferment... I worked hard for it. This will give me a push for 2020.
"I'd rather be thinking about 2020 now for the long run and having this deferment kind of lifts the weight off my shoulders."
He is scheduled to fly back to the United States, where he is studying, early on Friday.
• Additional reporting by Alvin Chia and Nicola Chew