FOUR years ago, Joseph Schooling made his first appearance on the world stage when he competed at the 2011 Fina World Junior Championships in Peru.
While he did not finish on the podium, the SEA Games and Asian Games champion was unequivocal about how the meet prepared him for future events.
Said the 20-year-old: "It was a good stepping stone for me, seeing guys from around the world my age, as good as I am. It really opened my eyes.
"It was the ideal meet for me at that time. You've got to start from somewhere small and work your way up. (Many of) the guys there, I'm still swimming against them today, so you can see how important that is."
Singapore will host the event from Aug 25-30 at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, and Schooling was unveiled as its ambassador during the event launch at the Kallang Wave Mall yesterday.
It marks the first time the competition is staged in Asia, and will see more than 1,000 young talents fly in from over 100 countries to vie for honours.
The event is open to males aged 15 to 18, and females aged 14 to 17.
Other notable alumni of the biennial meet include Olympic and world champion Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania and Japan's four-time Asian Games gold medallist Kosuke Hagino.
Singapore coach Sergio Lopez, fresh off guiding the national squad to a record 23-gold haul at the recently-concluded SEA Games, said the competition is a good chance for the younger members of the team to get valuable experience.
"These guys are going to be the core group of our swimmers, hopefully by 2020. We want these guys to be thinking about (qualifying for) finals, semis at the 2020 Olympics," he said.
"Competing at the World Juniors is one step towards the bigger Games. It's the beginning of making them understand they can be world-class swimmers."
On his targets for the team, the Spaniard said: "I hope everybody swims their best times and, hopefully, we can get one or two in the semi-finals, and maybe somebody in the finals. That'd be huge."
Francis Fong, a 14-year-old tipped by Lopez to shine, said: "I was pretty disappointed not to make the SEA Games but this is a chance to show what I can do."
While Schooling will not be in town for the meet, his star power was evident at yesterday's event launch, as more than 500 people queued to get an autographed poster and take pictures with him.
Next up for the University of Texas student - who won nine SEA Games golds in nine events - is the July 24-Aug 9 World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
While Lopez tipped him for a medal, the 20-year-old - who is swimming in the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly events - said: "I'm not thinking about medals, although I want to win (one). My most important goal is to get into the top eight. Once I'm in the top eight, anything can happen."
Tickets for the World Junior C'ships can be purchased at www.sportshubtix.sg