Schooling learnt to be fearless from first coach Vincent Poon

Mr Poon, 70, remembers Schooling's insatiable quest to win even while attending his swimming classes as a child.
Mr Poon, 70, remembers Schooling's insatiable quest to win even while attending his swimming classes as a child.FILE PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

His hands were tied but his spirit was free. He became a part of history without even getting his feet wet. Mr Vincent Poon got up at 7am yesterday as usual, but could do nothing for his former student Joseph Schooling other than willing him on.

He put his classes on hold to watch, on TV, his former student win Singapore's first Olympic gold medal.

Mr Poon, who is Schooling's first swimming coach, told The Sunday Times: "My heart was beating faster and faster before the race. We (he and his wife) were clapping and cheering. It's so unbelievable.

"I thought to myself before the race: Bronze would be very good. But Joseph wanted gold and he was so confident he could do it."

The 70-year-old first taught Schooling, then aged three, at Tanah Merah Country Club.

"He worked really hard and listened. There was a difference with Joseph and you could tell he would be a good swimmer," he said.

To Mr Poon, Schooling's quest to win was evident early. During the four years of tutelage, the coach would pit him against older and bigger boys.


Thus, yesterday morning must have brought a sense of deja vu for Schooling when he stood on the block next to Michael Phelps, 9cm taller and 10 years older.

"I remember a 50m butterfly race and this boy stood beside (Joseph) and he was so much taller and bigger," Mr Poon recalled.

"Joseph didn't want to swim. He didn't want to lose but I told him size didn't matter that much. He must have the right mindset and be fearless and try his best." Schooling won that race.

"Now he has that mindset. He's so confident of himself. The learning process he's gone through shows," the coach said.

Mr Colin Schooling, Joseph's father, agreed that Mr Poon showed his son the way. He said: "Vincent inculcated that hunger in him to win.

"Joseph is not only a swimmer but also he's a racer. There's a difference. There are thousands of swimmers in the world but only a few of them can be called racers."

Jean Iau

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Schooling learnt to be fearless from first coach'. Subscribe