One dream fulfilled, another gets bigger

It is a fair assumption that by the time Joseph Schooling turns 30, he will still be as revered by Singaporeans as Usain Bolt is in Jamaica today.

Their lives are not parallel. Bolt is winding down, and preparing for his last, emotional race on home soil this evening. Schooling is in Texas, his home away from home where he swam very close to his personal best in the 50m fly two days ago.

One nearing the final run, the other still striving for his peak.

They are island boys, born 17,848km from one another separated by time zones 13 hours apart.

Usain St Leo Bolt will retire later this summer as the fastest human of all time - the owner of eight Olympic gold medals.

Joseph Isaac Schooling has just one, but a unique one as far as Singapore is concerned. The first Olympic champion from his island in any discipline.

Yet in their different ways, through eras that just overlap, they prove the same point. No matter that Jamaica has barely 2.8 million people and that Singaporeans number only 3.4 million in a population of 5.6 million.

Age waits for no man, not even the swiftest among us all. Ten years, or slightly less, is nothing in the great scheme of life, but it is everything in sport.

They worked from childhood to achieve the pinnacle of being fastest on earth, and the fastest through water.

One imagines that Schooling, at 21, can only see himself getting swifter, higher, stronger to quote the Olympic motto.

Bolt runs his last race in the Caribbean today, and will end his career at the athletics World Championships in London in August, the month of his 31st birthday.

Age waits for no man, not even the swiftest among us all.

Ten years, or slightly less, is nothing in the great scheme of life, but it is everything in sport.

Bolt talks of things that Schooling has no reason to begin to contemplate just yet. "I don't know how I will feel tomorrow," he said at the media conference as friends and fellow Olympians such as Mo Farah and David Rudisha flew in to compete at his farewell meet.

"It's my last time in front of my home crowd, so I don't know how the emotions will be."

"I know they're gonna be loud," he added in that familiar, now famous Caribbean drawl. "I'm just going out there with an open mind. Just trying to do my best as always and put on a show for them because that's what they're coming out there to look forward to. We'll see what happens. The fans in Jamaica know that when I show up, I always show up at my best. I always try to make sure they're happy because they're very hard to please, but I try my best."

His best, better than anyone else, might be beyond him.

The Lightning Bolt lost some training time after he was traumatised following the death of childhood friend Germaine Mason in a motorcycle accident in Kingston in April.

They emerged around the same time, though Mason subsequently changed his national allegiance to win an Olympic high jump silver medal in British colours.

Bolt was one of the first to the scene of the crash, and a pall bearer at the funeral.

"It was rough for me at the start," he said. "Mentally, I wasn't ready to even train for, like, 21/2 weeks which I had to take off and just collect myself."

His "Salute to a Legend" 100m race today will line up other friends, among them runners who have done things Bolt swears he would never do, even in the pursuit of world records.

His fellow Jamaicans Nesta Carter and Asafa Powell, who will line up today, both committed doping violations. Indeed, Carter's retrospective sanction announced in January this year for the 4x100m relay way back in 2008 cost Bolt what would have been a ninth career Olympic gold.

Bolt was not privy to what Carter had taken, but he lost the medal for being on the same team. And as medical science discovers powers to detect violations from substances used decades ago, we must hope and pray that nothing tars the phenomenal Usain Bolt.

In this week's build-up to Bolt's last home run, a local politician proclaimed Bolt as the example to the rest of mankind that athletes can be pure and clean, and be out of this world.

We hope so.

For Bolt, and for Schooling. What they have in common is that they grew up as islanders and they persevered through a dream that starts in childhood.

Bolt was a wayward, hyperactive boy who emerged on the world's consciousness at age 15.

Even then, he was 1.96m tall. He dwarfed the other boys, running away with the 200m title at the athletics junior World Championships.

That event was held in 2002, in Kingston. His race has run full circle, and he still dwarfs all-comers.

The symmetry of his sporting life is neatly defined. At 15, you aspire. At 30, you retire.

Schooling is in mid-cycle. He met Michael Phelps, the great American swimmer, in Singapore when he was 13, a sprat.

Within a year, Schooling was in the United States, immersing himself in the training regimen that spawned Phelps. At last year's Rio Games, Phelps was nudging 31, but still the aquatic version of Bolt.

Five races Phelps swam in Rio, five he won. The sixth was a race too far because, as every Singaporean will never forget, Schooling beat the unbeatable in the 100m butterfly final.

It is a long haul from adolescence to eclipse in sport. Phelps has had his "day". Bolt soon will have had his. Schooling is in the golden decade.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'One dream fulfilled, another gets bigger'. Print Edition | Subscribe