Team Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling takes his responsibility as a role model for your swimmers very seriously, although he jokingly admitted they make him feel "old". Photo: SportSG
In the eyes of many Singaporeans, Joseph Schooling takes the undisputed top spot in the local swimming scene. Having swept gold in all nine of his 28th SEA Games events and earned himself a historic bronze medal at the recent 16th FINA World Championships, the national swim star is certainly in the form of his life.
Back in Singapore as ambassador for the 5th FINA World Junior Swimming Championships, Joseph – himself an alumnus of the meet – took the time to reflect on his journey towards the international stage and the importance of challenging yourself from a young age.
“The best way is to start [competing at such junior meets] now, when there’s nothing much on the line. There are no Olympic medals; no World Championships medals on the line. The atmosphere is very conducive,” he observed, adding that some of the world’s best swimmers, such as Chad le Clos and Cameron McEvoy, had all competed at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships before.
Speaking about his role as ambassador, which will also see him conducting training clinics and meeting young swimmers, Joseph offered a sheepish laugh, noting that the “kids” made him feel old. Yet, it was nonetheless clear that the 20-year old took this responsibility seriously.
“I was a kid before, and I’ve looked up to people like Michael Phelps. I’m lucky to have met Phelps as a kid and have him share his experiences with me. So now it’s my turn to pass it down to the younger generation: the future of swimming,” he explained.
“I think it’s our job, as older swimmers, to share the experience and let them know that they’re destined for greater and better things.”
In fact, he appeared at a meet-and-greet session with a group of Young Team Singapore Ambassadors (YTSAs) earlier in the afternoon. The YTSAs, a group of student sports leaders who can be seen cheering for Team Singapore at competitions, have also attended camps and workshops to learn and spread the positive values of sport.
As the driven swimmer himself acknowledged: “You learn so many things from sports. Personally, I’ve learnt discipline and determination. These are very clichéd, basic things, but they are real. I’m going to take a lot of these things that I’ve learnt in the pool into the real world for a job.”
Team Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling poses with a group of Young Team Singapore Ambassadors (YTSAs) at the FINA World Junior Championships 2015. Photo: SportSG
Remarking that Team Singapore is filled with role models to motivate them, the teenaged YTSA members echoed Joseph’s sentiments.
“Joseph is very young, but he works and trains very hard. It motivates me to do the best in whatever I’m doing right now, and to try to achieve the best that I can,” commented 15-year-old YTSA Hankijjakul Vorada.
Of course, Joseph’s best achievement might yet still be ahead of him, as he continues on his way to the top. Looking back on his debut Olympics appearance in 2012, he voiced his aspirations and expectations for next year’s competition.
“The last time I was at the Olympics, I was 16 going on 17, maybe just turned 17. The only experience that I had was the SEA Games. Going from the SEA Games to the Olympics was like going from level one to level one million,” he related.
“Right now, I’ve swum every meet possible, and I’ve shown that I’ve done well and that I can fight to win. Next year, anything could happen. All these guys I’m swimming with are at their peak right now. They’re going to be staying there. I’m still moving up rapidly and a lot can change in a year. I’m excited.”
With such drive and confidence on Joseph’s part, it is little wonder many are expecting a landmark performance from Singapore’s new favourite swim star at Rio 2016. Is a spot on the finals on the cards? Joseph, you have our vote.