jarrion lawson
Jarrion Lawson

Jarrion Lawson lept into the Brazilian night and landed in the sand, confident he had gold in his grasp. He was certain he exceeded his American teammate, Jeff Henderson, who was in first with a jump of 8.38 meters. When Lawson’s mark was revealed, he was astonished to see his leap recorded as 8.25 meters. Lawson not only lost the gold, he failed to medal, falling to fourth place behind Luvo Manyonga of South Africa and Greg Rutherford of Great Britain.

Lawson, in the follow through, had apparently grazed the sand with the fingers of his left hand before his feet landed. While Henderson was thrilled with his victory as he trotted along the track wrapped in his nation’s flag, he could see his teammate in the throes of agony. Such is life in the cut-throat world of athletic competitions measured in hundredths of centimeters or seconds under the microscope of digital recordings.

It must have been what Hungarian swimmer, Katinka Hosszu felt when American Maya DiRado touched the wall .04 seconds earlier in the 200-meter backstroke finals. It must have been what Chad Le Clos or László Cseh felt when they tied Michael Phelps for second, losing to Singaporean Joseph Schooling in the 100-meter butterfly finals, as they all finished at exactly 51.14 seconds. But at least they got to share silver.

Shaunae Miller and Allyson Felix
Shaunae Miller and Allyson Felix

And perhaps, more painfully, it must have been what 4-time gold medalist, Allyson Felix felt when she hit the tape at the end of the 400-meter sprint finals, only to see Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas dive over the line, her hands, wrists and ultimately her shoulder hitting the finish line earlier than Felix’s torso.

Jim McKay, the late, great host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, began his show by explaining his show’s raison d’etre: to deliver sports that showed “the human drama of athletic competition”, “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.”

The thrill for one often comes at the agony of the other. That’s why we love the Olympics.


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.

Schooling Sets Olympic Record

“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.

Phelps and Schooling
Schooling, age 13, meets his idol, Michael Phelps in 2008
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.

Phelps Le Clos and Cseh celebrate silver
Phelps, Le Clos and Cseh celebrate silver, while Schooling awaits his golden reward.
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.