SINGAPORE - Joseph Schooling has swum before crowds numbering in their thousands, but there is still something about a hall full of screaming, delighted schoolchildren that one cannot be entirely prepared for.
The Olympic champion admitted to being pleasantly surprised by the rousing reception from Yuhua Primary School students yesterday, when he attended an event held at the school to show support for Team Singapore athletes going for the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
The Games begin on Saturday (Aug 19) and run until Aug 30.
"The Olympics happened a year ago, but their continuous support for me really touches my heart because that's not normal," said Schooling.
"You don't see kids go that crazy for assembly. I know... I've been in primary school before."
Speeches made by the school's principal and a Nestle representative largely fell on deaf ears as the children goggled at Schooling seated at the side of the stage.
The excitement reached fever pitch when Schooling walked around the hall taking questions from students, with some falling over as they surged towards the swim star, although no one was hurt.
The 22-year-old answered the questions posed to him as earnestly as he could, from what was his favourite subject in primary school (science) to what music he listens to before races (alternative rock, house music).
"To see them so excited and passionate about a sporting achievement, it makes me feel real good about what I've achieved and how far the sporting scene has come in Singapore," he said.
Primary 4 student Li Yingliang asked Schooling how he dealt with nerves before his gold medal swim at the Rio Olympics.
The 10-year-old is also a swimmer, and said nerves affect him before his own races.
"Joseph told me to just be calm, take deep breaths and block out all other thoughts except about the race," said Yingliang.
Over 1,000 children from Yuhua, along with student representatives from Shuqun Secondary School and Crest Secondary School were present for the event organised in conjunction with Milo Singapore and the South West Community Development Council.
Schooling was presented with a board filled with heartfelt wishes from Yuhua students, wishing him and Team Singapore athletes, success at the KL Games.
Said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry and Education and Mayor of South West District Low Yen Ling, who was the event's guest of honour: "Each and every SEA Games athlete is a wonderful and inspiring role model for our students. This is why we have teamed up with Yuhua Primary School and Milo for this very wonderful sending-off event."