As long as I'm happy, I know I'm going to go fast: Joseph Schooling

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Singapore’s Joseph Schooling at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. (PHOTO: AFP/Martin Bureau)
Singapore’s Joseph Schooling at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. (PHOTO: AFP/Martin Bureau)

Joseph Schooling remembers little of the last time he competed at the Singapore leg of the Fina Swimming World Cup series. Given that it was 10 years ago in 2008, it is perhaps understandable.

“I can only recall that it was held at the Sports School,” he told Yahoo News Singapore on Wednesday (14 November), a day before this year’s edition begins at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. He was 13 then, still to leave Singapore and train in the United States for much of the following decade.

And now, he is getting ready to leave America behind, as he completes his academic education at University of Texas and comes back to Singapore for good, probably in January or February. He returns as probably Singapore’s most popular athlete, the only one with an Olympic gold medal to his name.

“Texas has been great, but it’s time to come home,” the 23-year-old quipped.

New coaching team a big pull factor

And the biggest pull factor seems to be Schooling’s new coaching team, comprising Gary Tan, the head coach at the National Training Centre, Singapore national head coach Stephan Widmer and technical director Sonya Porter.

The trio had worked with him for a few months prior to August’s Asian Games in Jakarta, where he excelled in winning two individual golds and two relay bronzes. And he seems genuinely excited to be working with them again in the near future, as he leaned forward from his chair and explained animatedly how he has already benefitted from their guidance.

“I was getting a little too top-heavy – my upper body was getting too thick. That just completely killed my range of motions, and my flexibility suffered,” he said. “So when I came back here, we did a lot of mobility stuff, a lot of free-weights training. Lost a lot of weight, so that was nice. It’s going to be some very exciting training here. Gary and his team are all in.”

Juggling training and professional commitments

The next few months will mark the start of a new chapter of Schooling’s life, as he continues his professional swimming career upon his return to Singapore. Besides training, he will also need to tend to the needs of his various sponsors.

However, he insists that swimming takes priority over everything else, and as long as his team are on the same page as he is, he will learn to plan his schedule to manage his new “work life”.

And with his new coaching team, he feels motivated enough to continue training hard.

“For me, the definition of good coaches is: when they’re watching me train, there’s something in me that wants to make them proud,” he said. “They inspire the best out of me, that’s what the three of them do.

“It’s important for me to love who I’m training with. If not, it’s going to be hell. And I do love who I’m training with – coaches and swimmers.

“As long as I am happy, I know I’m going to go fast.”

Challengers to his throne

No doubt, he remains focused on getting even faster – and he will need plenty of speed if he were to successfully defend his 100m butterfly Olympic gold at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Already, young upstarts have signalled their intentions to usurp his throne, with the biggest threat being 22-year-old American Caeleb Dressel, who won seven golds at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships, defeating Schooling along the way in the Singaporean’s pet event.

Schooling ended that championships with only a bronze medal in the 100m fly, and he intends to make amends in next year’s edition in Gwangju, South Korea.

“I haven’t won at the world champs yet, so yeah, it is motivation enough for me to train hard for next year,” he said. “I try to take the positives from 2017; I still came away with a medal, considering the ups and downs of that year.

“I think next year, a year before the Olympics, it’s important to start performing. There’s no more post-Olympic hangover like 2017, there are no more excuses.”

Taking part in 3 events at Swimming World Cup

The swim star intends to use this week’s Fina Swimming World Cup series to “get some races in, get into that competitive groove” before he steps up his training intensity early next year.

Schooling will take part in the 50m and 100m fly events, as well as the 4x50m mixed medley relay. China’s Li Zhuhao, who came in second in the 100m fly behind the Singaporean at the Asian Games, will be the key challenger in both the fly events. Russia’s Vladimir Morozov, top of the men’s ranking in this year’s series, will be participating in the 50m fly, along with rising American talent Michael Andrew.

The women’s competition will see two long-time rivals – Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu – in a tight tussle for the overall trophy, given to the swimmer with the most points from the seven legs of the World Cup this year. Sjostrom is just 15 points ahead of Hosszu coming into this final leg in Singapore.

The three-day event from 15 to 17 November is in the short-course format, conducted in a swimming pool that is configured for 25 metres per lap instead of 50 metres for the more common long-course format.

Tickets are available from $30 per day or $60 for three days at Heats will be held at 9.30am and the finals at 6.30pm each day.

Related stories:

Schooling confirms he will train in Singapore for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Joseph Schooling to take part in Fina World Cup Singapore leg in November

Asian Games: Joseph Schooling wins 50m butterfly in 23.61s, second gold

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