Incheon Daily :The 'Second' Father

26 September, 2014   Simon Evans

joseph and coach sergio

Team Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling (R) and coach Sergio Lopez (Photo by Singapore National Olympic Council)


The star of Team Singapore’s Asian Games so far with a collection of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals, Joseph Schooling will enter a new phase of his career as he begins life at the University of Texas with his eye firmly on the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

But before the 19-year-old enjoys a much deserved week off ahead of his return back in the pool in Austin, Texas, there will surely be time to say a fond farewell to his coach over the past six years – Spaniard Sergio Lopez.

Schooling’s move to Texas marks the start of an exciting new chapter in his story but it also brings an end to his highly successful relationship with Lopez’s Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida and with the genial coach himself.

For Lopez, who was on hand watching Schooling win his medals this week, the parting of ways with the talent he produces is something he has grown used to, but there is no doubt it will be tough to bring his work with the Singaporean to a close.

“In the last seven years I put 150 kids in college. It is hard but you train yourself to let go. I have to think that he came to me – that it was some other coach’s loss and was my gain. It is part of life,” Lopez said after watching Schooling’s win the Silver medal in the 50m butterfly on Friday.

Lopez’s relationship with his protégé has been far more than simply a coach and athlete working together – the pair has shared many experiences as Schooling has negotiated his teenage years while emerging into a top class swimmer.


joseph and sergio

Team Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling (L) and coach Sergio Lopez at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon (Photo by Singapore Swimming Association)



“He is a very driven person, the relationship we have - it is the same with a lot of my swimmers, (I am) like an older brother,” said Lopez.

“So we have some very good times and some very bad times, we argued a lot. But we talked from the beginning when he was 13 years old and I told him that conflict is going to make us grow,” he added.

Lopez had been given the freedom to take an active role in Schooling’s overall development, thanks to the instructions from Schooling’s father Colin.

“His father asked me to treat him like my son, so I told Joseph: ‘I am going to talk to you like I talk to my kids,’ and tell you the same things I tell my kids,” he said.

Not surprisingly that dynamic created some tension at times but the end result was a swimmer who became the first Singaporean to delivered the Republic's first Asian Games Gold in men's swimming since Ang Peng Siong's 100m freestyle triumph at the 1982 New Delhi Games, 

“Sometimes there were cultural differences, I am from Spain and sometimes we are very emotional, and he is maybe not as emotional. But it has been very good – we have become good friends and he has been very good to my family as a person, to my own kids, his family has been awesome to me,” reflected Lopez.

While all of Schooling’s medals have been celebrated, the swimmer himself could not hide his disappointment at missing out on a second Gold when he was piped to the wall by China’s Shi Yang in Thursday’s 50m Butterfly.

Lopez had some insight into what may have cost Schooling a second Gold, but he was quick to put the swimmer’s achievements in Incheon into context.

“This is his first Asian Games, he was coming with very fast times but any 50m is kind of a crap shoot. His dives, for whatever reason, have been getting too deep here, in all of the races he was starting from behind, even though his reaction time was very good. He spent too much time under the water and I think that affected him at the end,” he said, before adding that Schooling had to deal with tricky preparations ahead of the Games.

“I think the hard part was that after the Commonwealth Games his training has been conditioned by moving to Texas and the last three weeks he has been training with me through WhatsApp. It has been pretty hard. The problem is that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has a rule that you cannot start training until September 7 so he was by himself pretty much. He did a very good job managing himself. I think he can be very happy,” said Lopez.

Schooling clearly has his mind on Rio and Lopez believes that the Singaporean is capable of going right to the top in the sport.



Team Singapore’s Joseph Schooling in action during Men's 100m Butterfly - Heat 3 (Photo by Jaewon Lee / Sport Singapore)



“He can go as far as he wants to. I think at this level it is not so much about talent but about how much you want to become the best. Now it is time to grind and train hard and decide that ‘I want to win’. There are going to be a lot of distractions and he will need to keep himself focused,” he said.

Schooling certainly appears to have no shortage of desire and motivation and Lopez knows he will be in excellent hands in Austin’s impressive swimming program.

“Oh yes he has the drive and he has some very good guys at Texas who want to be the very best, and so they are going to push, push, push,” he said with a grin.

Schooling has a busy year ahead with the upcoming NCAA Championships and the World Championships in Kazan, Russia where he is hoping for another breakthrough with a podium finish.

And while Lopez will now take a back seat and watch the next year of progress for Schooling from a distance, the Spaniard says he will always be ready to respond if called upon.


joseph and sergio

Team Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling (L) and coach Sergio Lopez at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon (Photo by Singapore Swimming Association)


“For me, I’m done with him now because he is moving on. But he knows that if he needs any help with anything I will be there,” he said.


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