SINGAPORE - Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling capped off a phenomenal year in the pool when he was crowned The Straits Times Athlete of the Year 2014 on Thursday.
The butterfly specialist, who was nominated for the award in 2011 and 2013 but did not win, edged out fellow Team Singapore colleagues Jazreel Tan (bowling), Aloysius Yapp (cuesports) and Bernie Chin, and Samantha Yom (both sailing) for the accolade.
Said Schooling: "I'm really honoured. This is like the second biggest award after the Singapore Sports Awards, and I'm looking forward to doing Singapore proud at the SEA Games in June."
Schooling enjoyed a stellar 2014, delivering medals and rewriting history where it mattered. At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July, he clinched a silver in the 100m butterfly in a national record time of 51.69sec, finishing second to only Olympic champion Chad le Clos.
It was Singapore's first-ever swimming medal at the quadrennial meet, and the eighth fastest time in the world for 2014.
The Texas University freshman followed that up with a stunning show at September's Incheon Asian Games, bagging a unique hat-trick of gold, silver, and bronze in the 100m fly, 50m fly, and 200m fly respectively. His gold in the 100m fly was also the first by a Singaporean male swimmer in 32 years.
Said The Straits Times sports editor Marc Lim, who headed the 2014 award's nine-member judging panel: "That Joseph's accomplishments in 2014 stand out, even against a cohort of Youth Olympic, World Junior and Asian Games champions, speaks volumes of what he has achieved.
"We have all long known about Joseph's talents. But 2014 was the year in which he truly showed he was ready to compete against the very best in the world. Perhaps his talent acted against him when he was previously nominated for his performances at the SEA Games. We all felt he was destined for the bigger stage. And he has proved that he does belong with the best this year, which is why he thoroughly deserves his award."
The award was presented to Schooling's parents by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Communications and Information, who was the Guest-of-Honour at the event. Schooling, currently a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin in the United States, could not return to Singapore for the ceremony.
Said Mr Wong: "Joseph is a very deserving winner because of his achievements that he had at the Asian Games and also at the Commonwealth (Games). I think he has a lot of potential, he has shown that potential already, and he can still get better. He truly embodies the spirit of the games. He has bounced back from adversity, he has had to go through very tough training, and he continues to maintain a certain humility about him."
The award, which is into its seventh edition, is sponsored by isotonic drink 100Plus. Since the award's inception in 2009, 100Plus and The Straits Times also give out the ST Star of the Month award to recognise breakthrough performances during the sporting year.