Singapore exploded. The Southeast Asian nation of over 5 million, affectionately self-proclaimed as the Little Red Dot, blew up their part of the Twitterverse with exaltations of pure bliss – one of their boys took gold at the Rio Olympics.
And it wasn’t just any gold. It was one destined to land in the hands of Michael Phelps, arguably the most successful Olympian ever.
Joseph Schooling, a 21-year-old third-generation Singaporean, lept to a great start in lane 4 of the 100-meter butterfly finals. Schooling quickly took the lead, held it at the 50-meter turn, and never relinquished it. He led from start to finish and defeated the favorites by a clear margin. Phelps, Chad Le Clos of South Africa, and László Cseh of Hungary finished in a tie for second, 0.75 seconds behind the University of Texas third-year student.
“I’m really honored and privileged to swim alongside some of these great names, people who changed the face of our sport,” he told Channel News Asia. “I can’t really tell you how grateful I am to have this chance to swim in an Olympic final and to represent our country.”
Phelps did not add to his treasure trove of gold, instead settling for silver. But as noted in this wonderful New York Times article, Phelps has no one to blame except himself. Ever since Phelps began collecting gold medals at the 2004 Athens Games, he has inspired young swimmers all over the world. Le Clos idolized Phelps as a child, and had the umbrage to defeat Phelps in the 200 meter butterfly at the 2012 London Games, albeit by a mere .05 seconds. Phelps came back to defeat Le Clos in the same race at the Rio Games.
Schooling is no exception, as he explains in this article. “As a kid I wanted to be like him,” said Schooling, who got his photograph taken with Phelps before his eight-gold medal performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. “It’s crazy to think of what happens in eight years,” Schooling said, adding, “A lot of this is because of Michael. He’s the reason I wanted to be a better swimmer.”
While most casual observers of the sport wondered who the heck Schooling was, his competitors were aware. After all, Schooling is the reigning NCAA champion in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly in the US. And the fact that Schooling was in lane 4 indicated he was fast in the heats leading up to the finals. Two days prior, Schooling had won his heat, defeating Phelps. In the semis, he posted the fastest time of all competitors.
But even so, with Le Clos and Phelps in the mix, Schooling’s victory was not a given. And as the winner of Southeast Asia’s first gold medal in swimming, Schooling’s victory is significant, as all trailblazing accomplishments often are, and will no doubt impact the dreams of millions of young athletes in Asia for years to come.
Schooling’s father, Colin, was ecstatic, but also aware of the responsibility his son now carries.
Singapore, he did what you all wanted and he did it in style. The most important thing is to be an ambassador for all our children in Singapore that gives them hope that they also can do it. There’s nothing special about him, just a boy who is interested in the sport.
Yes, just a boy…a boy who would be king.