NCAA meet a wake-up call in world record quest: Joseph Schooling

Hannah Teoh
Senior Content Producer
Joseph Schooling file photo. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Singapore’s Olympic champion Joseph Schooling says his less-than-stellar performance at the recent National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) swimming championships was the wake-up call he needed to get back on track to achieving his world-record ambitions.

“Honestly, I needed something like this – I needed to be whooped in something for me to take it seriously again. I think I was definitely a bit too relaxed.

“I took a lot of things for granted. And now that I’ve seen what happens, there’s going to be no more of that, that’s unacceptable,” said the 21-year-old, who did not win any of his individual events at the US meet – considered to be the nation’s most competitive inter-college swimming competition.

Schooling was speaking to the Singapore media in a call on Wednesday (29 March) from the University of Texas, where he is currently a third-year student.

The NCAA meet concluded on Saturday with the University of Texas being crowned champions, but Schooling has no plans to revel in the victory. Instead, he will be back in the pool this week to resume his training.

At the World Championships in Budapest this July, his goal is still to go under 50 seconds for the 100m butterfly and break Michael Phelps’ 49.82s world record. If he succeeds, he will be the first swimmer to clock a sub-50s time in a textile suit.

Phelps’ record was set in 2009, back when swimmers were allowed to use full-body polyurethane suits, which have since been banned from competition.

“I’m more focused now just ‘cause I got my butt handed to me,” said Schooling. “So everything’s going to start clicking again, I’m going to start firing on all cylinders like I was for the Olympics.”

At the World Championships in Budapest held from 14 to 30 July, he said he is likely to swim four or five events – including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.

At the previous World Championships in 2015, he came in third in the 100m butterfly behind Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Cseh, becoming the first Singaporean to win a medal at a World Championships. He placed 13th in the 200m butterfly semi-final.

Referring to the 200m butterfly, he said, “I think I haven’t improved a lot in that event or as much as I wanted to over the years, but I think this year we could have a solid 200 fly. I think it’d surprise a lot of people.”

SEA Games still important

While his focus is on becoming a world record holder at the World Championships, Schooling said that he will still take this year’s South-east Asian Games (SEA Games) seriously. The 29th edition of the multi-sports meet takes place in Kuala Lumpur from 19 to 31 August.

“As much as I want to take a holiday after the World Championships, I know this is more important, not only to me but my friends, my family and most importantly the country. I’m going to be back for that and put an honest effort in it,” he affirmed.

At the 2015 SEA Games on home soil, Schooling swam in seven individual events – the butterfly, freestyle and individual medley – winning gold and breaking the previous records in all of them.

“You go to meets always aiming to win and even though I’ve come a long way from the SEA Games standard, you never take things like that lightly at all. That’s not being true to yourself, and I think it’s very disrespectful to your competitors,” he said.

Schooling has not yet confirmed which events he will be swimming in, and it remains to be seen whether he will go head to head with Malaysia’s top swimmer Welson Sim, who holds the Malaysian national records in the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle.

“I’ll go in there 100 per cent, preparing as if it was the Olympics or Asian games or any big meet like that, and try and win my events,” he said.