TOKYO - Joseph Schooling got his Tokyo Olympics campaign off to an underwhelming start when he clocked 49.84 seconds in the men's 100m freestyle heats on Tuesday (July 27) evening.
Singapore's only Olympic champion, who won the 100m butterfly gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, finished sixth in Heat 5, which was won by Croatia's Nikola Miljenic in 49.25sec.
The 26-year-old's time was not good enough for him to advance to Wednesday's semi-final as one of the top 16 swimmers. He finished 39th out of the 70-strong field. Italy's Thomas Ceccon led the qualifiers with a time of 47.71sec.
Schooling told Singapore media at the mixed zone: "The time is definitely a tough one (to take)... We’ve been doing a lot of butterfly training the whole year, not really any emphasis on free.
"But at the same time that’s not an excuse. That’s just an opportunity to come here and get up and race and see where we’re at, because I had no idea where my freestyle was going to be. The next thing I’m focused on is the 100m fly. It (freestyle) is in the past now."
He insisted that he was not treating the 100m freestyle as a warm-up ahead of his title defence.
"It’s not like a warm-up race, it’s not a race where you can “bag” (hold back) just for the sake of it," he said. "Everyone competes here for an event, everyone steps up and tries to compete at this race. If I don’t give anything more than 100 per cent, I think that’s disrespectful to everyone racing here."
Five years ago in Rio, Schooling clocked 48.27sec - still the national record - to progress to the semi-finals as the sixth-quickest swimmer in the heats, but failed to make it into the final.
Schooling will now turn his attention to his 100m fly title defence on Thursday evening, where he will race in the heats with teammate Quah Zheng Wen.
The other Singaporean swimmer in Tokyo, Quah's sister Ting Wen, will race in the 100m and 50m free heats on Wednesday and Friday respectively.