Joseph Schooling eased to victory in the 100m butterfly at the Liberty Insurance 50th Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championship last night, but he was hardly a happy man.
The Olympic champion looked disappointed as he walked towards his coaches after the race and declined to speak to the media.
National head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer later told The Straits Times that the 23-year-old had been aiming for a faster time than the 52.70 seconds he clocked at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. Schooling holds the national record of 50.39 which he set en route to winning a historic gold medal for Singapore at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Representing the Chinese Swimming Club, he was second at the turn behind compatriot Teong Tzen Wei, but overtook the latter to touch the wall first. Teong finished second in 53.60 and Jonathan Tan was third in 54.31. Both represented AquaTech Swimming.
Declining to reveal what time Schooling had been gunning for, Widmer said: "In very particular areas, he's in a good position, in strength, his body alignment and so on... we have to keep building on the physiology side of swimming, and (have) good conditioning, a solid (training) block in the lead-up to the world championships.
"To be fair, he's fresh but he's not tapered... this is just the reality check of where we are and what are the calls that have to be made."
The Swiss-born Australian believes Schooling is still in a "very solid position" overall, and stressed that there was no reason for panic.
Schooling returned to Singapore last month after spending the past 10 years in the United States, and Widmer feels he has done well in adjusting to life back home and "getting to know the new coaches' language". He quipped that Schooling had to "translate not just my accent, but also the key information that flows across".
Widmer also noted that while Schooling and National Training Centre head coach Gary Tan have known each other for a long time, they are now working together on a more consistent basis.
"What Eddie (Reese) had time to develop before, and Sergio (Lopez), these guys did a great job. Gary has really stepped it up in that area and developed that relationship," he said.
Schooling had expressed similar appreciation for his coaches when he spoke to the media earlier this month, saying: "The coaches are doing a great job so far at being patient with me, taking things slow and I really appreciate that.
"If I get into the groove of competing again, I know the times will come. It's more of readjusting to life in Singapore and also finding a very good balance between social life and practice.
"Everything has changed from what I'm used to. I need to take this adjustment period slow and not rush anything, and I'll be set."
Widmer added: "Moving forward from here, it's just (doing) some specific work suitable for Jo and his physiology... we just need to do more often of the same for longer and consistently."
Schooling met the A-cut for July's world championships in Gwangju at last year's Asian Games after clocking 51.04 en route to retaining his Asiad title. He is still off the A-cut time of 51.96 for next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, but his time last night qualified him for the SEA Games in the Philippines in November.
Quah Ting Wen also met the SEA Games A-cut after winning the women's event in 59.28sec last night.
The 26-year-old thought her race was "not bad", saying: "The first 50m felt smoother this morning (in the heats) but tonight I think I did a better job of bringing it back home.
"The goal was to make the team and, from here till the SEA Games, just work more on practising the race plan and try to go faster but without using too much effort."
SINGAPORE NATIONAL AGE GROUP SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Day 5: facebook.com/1PlaySports/, 5.30pm