SINGAPORE - Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling got off to a disappointing start at the Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, on Sunday (July 21) as he missed out on the semi-finals of the men's 50m butterfly.
The 24-year-old clocked 23.73 seconds to finish seventh in his heat and 20th overall.
Caeleb Dressel of the United States and Ukraine's Andrii Govorov led the top-16 field with their time of 22.84sec.
It was a far cry from Schooling's performance at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, two years ago when he smashed the national record twice - 23.05sec in the heats and 22.93sec (also an Asian record) in the semi-final. He finished fifth in the final in 22.95sec.
"I was happy with parts of my execution, but have also identified areas I need to work on," said Schooling, who won the 100m butterfly gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a Games record of 50.39sec.
"There are some fast times in the pool today and it sets the stage for the World Swimming Championships. Everyone will have to lift their game to make the most out of their races at this meet."
Schooling did have something to cheer about when he teamed up with Quah Zheng Wen, Jonathan Tan and Darren Chua to set a national record of 3min 16.66sec in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay. They finished 18th overall and did not make the final.
The previous mark of 3:17.22 was set by Schooling, Quah, Chua and Darren Lim at the 2018 Asian Games.
Schooling said: "I'm really pleased to set the national record with Zheng Wen, Jonathan and Darren in the 4x100m freestyle relay. We spur each other on and we must continue to tap on this momentum for the upcoming relays and our individual races."
Schooling will swim in his pet event the 100m butterfly on Friday (heats and semi-finals) and likely the final on Saturday, when he will attempt to improve on his joint-bronze showing (50.83sec) two years ago.
The women's 4x100m free relay team comprising sisters Quah Ting Wen and Quah Jing Wen, Cherlyn Yeoh and Christie Chue also rewrote the previous national record of 3:44.21 with their time of 3:43.11. They finished 17th overall and also did not qualify for the final.
None of Singapore's swimmers made it to the semi-finals or finals of their events on Sunday.
National head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer said: "It was fairly rough morning today, most of the swimmers are in good condition, and we saw many of the young ones exposed to the world stage today.
"There were some very solid performances today, the two relays were national records on a bigger stage, but it was not easy.
"It's challenging but that's what these meets are about. We have to get used to this pressure, this environment, the highest standard there is.
"It is a good reality check for us as a nation. We still have to close the gap even more."