SINGAPORE - In his first race since Tokyo 2020 last August, Joseph Schooling showed little ring rust as he qualified for this year's Asian Games and Commonwealth Games during Wednesday's (March 16) 50m butterfly heats at the Liberty Insurance SNAG Major Games Qualifier.
The 26-year-old, who enlisted for national service on Jan 3, clocked 23.78 seconds in the morning race at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. It was comfortably within the 24.35sec needed to earn his place at the Sept 10-25 Asiad in Hangzhou, China and just under the 23.96sec required for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham from July 28-Aug 8.
Schooling said: "It's good to be back racing and even better to qualify for the Asian Games. It has a very special place in my heart and I can't ask for a better start to the week."
His personal best and national record is 22.93sec, set at the 2017 world championships. He won this event at the 2018 Asian Games in 23.61sec, as well as another gold (100m fly) and two bronzes (4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays).
He also swam in the 100m freestyle heats but clocked 50.49sec, slower than the Asian Games qualifying mark of 49.28 sec.
Schooling will not race in Wednesday's evening finals. He withdrew to prepare for the 100m fly heats on Thursday.
His last competitive outing had been the Olympic Games where he failed to defend his 100m fly title, finishing last in his heats in 53.12sec and ranking 44th out of 55 swimmers.
He had initially been scheduled to compete at the Swim Series II here in February but pulled out due to a back injury.
National Training Centre assistant coach Gustavo Schirru, who has been working with Schooling since the start of the year, was not surprised by his qualification.
Said the 31-year-old Brazilian: “We all know that he is a talented swimmer. We have been going step by step with him as he gets used to his current routine and I am pleased with his progression.
“I do feel that he is in a better place mentally at the moment and he is fitter as well. Those factors have helped him to be ready.”
Besides Schooling, Teong Tzen Wei also earned his tickets to the Asian and Commonwealth Games during the 50m fly heats.
He clocked a personal best of 23.30sec in the heats before lowering it by 0.04sec en route to winning the final.
Mikkel Lee and Jonathan Tan are also heading to Hangzhou after clocking 24.07sec and 49.25sec in the heats of the 50m fly and 100m free respectively.
Tan, Lee, Quah Zheng Wen and Ardi Azman have also qualified for the men’s 4x100m free relay at the Asiad after their combined time of 3min 19.62sec – the four quickest in the 100m free – met the ‘A’ mark of 3:21.06.
Tan, 20, who is serving his NS, said that the disappointment of missing out on the Tokyo Olympics was his motivation to qualify for the major games.
At the Singapore National Swimming Championships invitationals last June, Tan clocked 49.07sec in the 100m free. The Olympic ‘A’ cut was 48.57sec.
He came agonisingly close in the 50m free, his 22.12sec performance just 0.11sec shy of the ‘A’ mark.
Tan, who won two relay bronzes at the 2018 Asian Games, said: “I was very upset last year after going so close and missing out on the Olympics. So that really pushed me to ensure I do well this year.
“I think it has allowed me to have a better mentality and it was a relief today to have met the mark and qualify for a competition that has a very tough racing environment.”
In the women’s 200m individual medley final, Quah Jing Wen won in 2min 17.41sec, under the Asian Games ‘A’ cut of 2:17.63.