SINGAPORE - Olympic-bound swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen have applied for a further extension of deferment from full-time national service (NS) for the postponed Tokyo Olympics and it is being assessed, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in response to queries by The Straits Times.
Reigning 100m butterfly champion Schooling, 24, and Quah, 23, were both granted long-term deferment from NS to compete at this year's Summer Games, originally scheduled from July 24 to Aug 9.
The quadrennial competition has been postponed to July 23 to Aug 8 next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mindef noted in its statement: "In assessing the applications, the Ministry of Defence, together with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, will be engaging them (Schooling and Quah) for details of their training plans and milestones in order to compete in the Olympic Games."
Singapore Swimming Association president Lee Kok Choy told ST the national body had worked together with national sports agency Sport Singapore and Singapore Sport Institute to put up the two swimmers' applications to Mindef.
This included compiling results and data, and coming up with long-term plans for the two swimmers to be at their optimal form in the Japanese capital next year.
When asked if the extra year of preparation was a boon or bane for the two athletes, Mr Lee said: "I think it's not clear cut if it's better or worse, it's all about adapting to a new plan.
"Now they have to peak in 2021, and with the Covid-19 situation it's hard to say what will happen because there's a lot of unknown and uncertainty.
"Training conditions have changed, competition schedules are uncertain. It's a totally new situation and one that is not relevant to whatever we had before."
Both swimmers are back in Singapore having cut short their training and competition plans in the United States.
After struggling with his form and fitness, Schooling had reunited with former coach Sergio Lopez in Virginia.
Quah, who is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, was due to compete in his final National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men's Swimming Championships in Indiana in March.
Former national swimmer Mark Chay, who competed at the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics, said it was fair for Mindef to assess the deferment applications as these are given only in "exceptional cases".
Chay, 37, said the pair would have to demonstrate they could be contenders in Tokyo and not just participants. "I think the extra year is a good chance for Jo and Zheng to really think about their programme and their approach for the next 13 or 14 months, and a great time to refresh their focus," he said.
Veteran sports administrator Low Teo Ping, who was the chef de mission of the Singapore contingent at the 2016 Rio Games, noted there was an "operating procedure" Mindef had to follow before approving the extension of the deferments.
He added: "If the two athletes don't have to think about being enlisted at the end of the year, the peace of mind would definitely help them and give them the impetus to really work on their performance, so I think it would be nice if the authorities are proactive on this matter.
"But I'm sure (Schooling and Quah's) attitudes and motivations remain the same either way, in that they will want to do well in 2021."