HANOI - Swimmer Joseph Schooling on Wednesday (May 18) called for a "national dialogue" on national service (NS), highlighting the need to manage the expectations of athletes who are undergoing NS.
The 26-year-old, who enlisted in January, was speaking to media at the My Dinh Water Sports Palace in Hanoi on Wednesday, a day after he wrapped up his SEA Games campaign with two golds and a bronze.
This was his lowest haul at the biennial meet - though he competed in only four events - after winning four golds and two silvers at the 2019 edition, six golds in 2017, nine golds in 2015, six golds in 2013 and 2-1-1 on his debut in 2011.
Responding to The Straits Times' question on how he has been juggling NS and swimming, Schooling said: "As a swimmer, it's pretty challenging to be stuck in the middle of what the nation expects you to be... versus the things that you can commit to in terms of training requirements or the time needed to do the things that you need to do."
He added: "I think it's about time we had a national dialogue, we all sat down together and discussed, what are the expectations that our athletes are facing as they're serving national service?"
Stressing that NS "is something that everyone needs to do", he said: "At the end of the day, I'm gonna step up there and do my best no matter if I'm in the shape I am or not. But as the people watching on TV, they have a lot of expectations... we as athletes we want to match those expectations."
"So it's all about how we can both grow together and how sporting achievements can coincide.
"And I think we're on the right track - we just need to sit down, ask some tough questions. It's going to be rough, but I think we're going to come out on the right side at the end of the day."
In previous interviews, the 2016 Olympic champion had also talked about the challenges of balancing his NS and training commitments - an issue that other local sportsmen have also experienced in their careers.
Last month, Schooling told The Straits Times that he had "actually retired for a few hours" before the Singapore National Age Group Championships a month earlier, citing "existential circumstances" as the reason.
While there has been plenty of speculation about his future in the pool, the swimmer is still holding off on a final decision for now.
He had previously hinted in reports that this could be his last SEA Games, but said yesterday: "I'm not ready to be done for sure but what I know is we need a plan...
"Hopefully in the next week or two, we'll understand what I can do given the current circumstances versus what's realistic as well."
Factors such as the availability of meets like the Asian Games, which was scheduled for September but has since been postponed to next year, would determine how long he continues to swim competitively.
He added: "You don't want to keep postponing things, this is just the start of my future. Swimming has been great, it's given me a lot of things, opened a lot of doors, it's time to live life."
Schooling, who failed to retain his Olympic gold in the 100m fly in Tokyo last August, insisted that he has not lost the motivation to swim.
"I swim to see how good I can be, I swim because I actually enjoy what swimming teaches me. Swimming is one thing, but how you are as a person... I think that's more important to me.
"That's what people remember you for, not how many gold medals you win, but what kind of person you are."