Joseph Schooling needs a major rethink

Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling lags behind in his men’s 100m butterfly at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (PHOTO: AFP / Oli Scarff)

Tokyo report

TOKYO – It was heartbreaking, wasn’t it?

Under all the provocative social media posts insisting that Joseph Schooling is still the Olympic champion of Singapore and someone who still has the support of the nation, everyone’s hearts must have been aching at the sight of a once confident and unbeatable winner reduced to discouragement and disoriented former champion.

But it shows how much the 26-year-old raised Singapore when he won his first and only Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. We had the privilege of bragging that “our swimmer” was able to beat Michael Phelps, the most medal-winning Olympian of all time. How intoxicating it had been.

When the inevitable descent arrived with his astonishing elimination of his pet 100m butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics, the general feeling (ignoring the usual in-line trolls) is less disappointment, but more heartwarming encouragement, like what l Schooling coach Sergio Lopez tried to do after the race.

It was a recognition that what the young man had already accomplished was head and shoulders above anything Singapore sports had achieved before or after independence. Schooling’s legacy is secure despite this bitter defeat – he will be forever remembered as one of this nation’s greatest athletes.

Disappointing to see such a rapid regression

But if we want to be honest about it, it was a bit disconcerting to see such a steep and rapid regression from such an exceptional swimmer.

We would have hoped to see Schooling slowly fade from his heyday – maybe finish second or third in Tokyo, then maybe come out of the final in Paris 2024, before slowing down his swimming career while racking up SEA Games medals. for pleasure.

Instead, we got a shock when he finished last in his qualifying race, with a timekeeping (53.12 seconds) that is almost three seconds – a life in competitive swimming – off his Olympic record of or (50.39 seconds).

For those who were only interested in Schooling’s fortune in the Quadrennial Olympics, it must have seemed like it lost its shine overnight. And they might feel a sense of shock and disappointment deeper than those who have followed his career from Rio.

But the warning signs were there. At the 2019 World Championships, Schooling also finished last in his 100m butterfly series, in a timing (52.93 seconds) not too far from his Tokyo result. Then came a disappointing outing at the 2019 SEA Games, where he won just one individual gold medal – a far cry from the six individual gold medals he won in the 2015 edition.

Even though he vowed to deal with those setbacks, tried to change coaches, and returned to the United States in an attempt to regain his form, the timing has not increased significantly. Nonetheless, those who had followed him since he was a teenage sensation at the 2011 SEA Games had hoped his penchant for the big occasion could take him to another great Olympic performance in Tokyo.

He couldn’t this time. Will he be able to climb the heights of Rio again?

A major overhaul is needed to relaunch the career

Leave aside the question of retirement: there is no way Schooling will end his swimming career on that disappointing note.

Many have said that if he resigns now, it will not hurt his legacy at all.

In addition, he has already devoted most of his 26 years of life to endless hours and countless lonely laps in the pool. At his current age, many swimmers would have already considered the next stage in their lives. Now might be a good time to move on.

Schooling won’t do it. Not after being stung by such an unsatisfactory Olympic outing. Rather, he would be motivated to continue for another Olympic cycle to try and draw a more positive conclusion.

But it needs a major overhaul. The surest way to regain your best race times is to let go of all distractions and devote your life again to the stubborn pursuit of cutting fractions of swim times.

It’s an exhausting prospect and it could involve sacrificing a large part of one’s social life. Would he be willing to go through all the grunt work like he did when he was younger?

Of course, if he does, there will be people ready to support him to the end. He could even take advantage of the advice of his idol Phelps, who also went through a relative crisis – winning just four gold medals at the London Olympics in 2012 after racking up nine at the Beijing Games in 2008 – before relaunching his career. for a last hurray in Rio.

He has made good decisions all his life, thanks to the astute education of his parents Colin and May. And his next career decision could be the most crucial he has to make, as he enters another unexplored path for a Singaporean athlete – making a return to the most difficult competitive scene of the Olympics.

Will schooling be successful? He must try, if only not to let the Tokyo Games be the end point of his Olympic race. It will be an uphill battle, filled with people who doubt him and derail his confidence.

But he’s already changed the narrative once, believing the cynical preconception that Singaporeans would never win an Olympic gold, especially in the ultra-competitive sport of swimming.

Now he has to change the narrative for the second time. This time it is not for Singapore sports, but for himself.

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COMMENT: The signs are not good for gold, but Joseph Schooling still deserves our support

Joseph Schooling shocked out of the World Championships, failing to qualify for the semi-finals of his favorite event

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