Olympics: Singapore swimmer Schooling smarting after poor show, but promises there's 'much more left in the tank'

TOKYO – The morning after he relinquished his Olympic title, Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling admitted his poor performances have stung him.

In an interview with The Straits Times at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre on Friday (July 30), the 26-year-old said he was so upset by his race in his 100m butterfly heat the previous night, that he does not even want to watch it replayed on video.

He clocked 53.12 seconds to finish last among eight swimmers in his race and place 44th out of the field of 55. His time was almost three seconds slower than the 50.39sec that helped him win the gold medal at the Rio Games five years ago.

“It’s frustrating, you know? Definitely upsetting,” he said, noting that “the way I swim and the way I’m built” he should not have trailed by as much as he did.

As if he was not hurting enough, on Friday morning the Olympic record that he set as he won Singapore’s only gold medal was re-written. Twice.

Hungary’s Kristof Milak clocked 50.31sec in the first semi-final, before American star Caeleb Dressel pulled a monstrous 49.71sec in the very next race. Dressel, 25, also holds the world record of 49.50sec.

Schooling was magnanimous when addressing this and said: “As much as I don’t like my records being broken because I want to hold all the records, it’s fine.

“It just shows that the sport is growing and people are getting faster. Caeleb and Milak have worked their butts off for it, so they deserve it. Give credit where credit’s due.”

The Singaporean will be in the air, en route home to the Republic, when Dressel and Milak vie for gold in the final on Saturday morning, and he is looking forward to recharging mentally while serving the mandatory Stay Home Notice (SHN). He said his frustrations from Tokyo have not “kicked in fully yet” and the prolonged period of isolation might help.

“I need some processing for sure,” said Schooling. “It’s less than 24 hours like I’m still burnt from the year. I think SHN is going to be great… It’s like a blessing in disguise.

“And after that, getting to see my family and some of my close friends, just surround myself with good people… That’s what I’m looking forward to and I think that’s what I need.

“Everything will come in due time, the reset process can’t take too long, but as of right now, I just don’t have the mental capacity to think past SHN.”

He is certain, however, he will not throw in the towel on his career.

He said: “Some people will just pull the plug, and that’s fine.

“I just don’t see myself being able to, not because I’m trying to hold on to something, but because there’s just so much more to be done, and so much more that can be improved on.

“So, it is what it is, it sucks, it’s over. Let’s go for the next one.”

That “next one”, his long-time coach Sergio Lopez told ST after his race on Thursday, could be the Asian Games in Hangzhou in 13 months’ time. Schooling agreed that the Asiad, where he is the two-time defending champion in the 100m fly, could be his next big goal.

National Service (NS), however, looms and while he has spoken plainly about his ease at having to conscript if not given another deferment by the Ministry of Defence, he hoped it would not be before Hangzhou.

“That (being called up to serve) would be tough for sure, because I have got so much more left in the tank,” he said.

“And if I get my mind to come around and accept that this is the process and this is what we need to do, and go full throttle towards it, to not be in control of my future and…. not being able to do it, yeah, of course I’d be upset.

“I don’t want to end like this. I know that the window is still wide open. We have an opportunity. And as long as I believe that I can get better, of course I’d be upset. Who wouldn’t?”

He also said he has been moved by the reaction on social media, noting there has been a lot of “empathy” shown to him by Singaporeans despite his disappointing outing in Tokyo.

“And with everything that we’ve gone through I am surprised how many people – whether I talked to them on a daily, weekly, once a year, once a decade – have come out, show their support and say like we’re all with you,” he said.

“I haven’t seen any negative comments, at least directly to me. I’m sure there will be – it’s part of the job. But at the end of the day I just focus on the positives.”

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