Meet Joseph Schooling – Hero Who Slayed Phelps For Singapore First-Ever Gold

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Aug 14 2016
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Singapore first entered the Olympics in 1948 but had never won an Olympic gold – until now. Singapore’s first medal was a silver, contributed by Tan Howe Liang, in weightlifting at Rome in 1960. The country waited 48 years before winning their next medal, also a silver in table tennis team at Beijing in 2008, thanks to Li Jiawei, Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu.


Feng Tianwei delivered Singapore’s first individual Olympic bronze medal 4 years later in the 2012 London Olympics. The same team of Li Jiawei, Feng Tianwei and Wang Yuegu also won another bronze in the table tennis team match for Singapore. The 2 bronze medals won at the 2012 London Olympics marked the first time that Singapore won more than one medal in a single Olympic Games.

Joseph Schooling With Dad Colin and Mom May - 2012

At the Rio 2016 Olympics, for the first time in the history of Singapore, the country’s national anthem – “Majulah Singapura” – was played at the medal award ceremony. Joseph Schooling, a boy who grew up near Bedok Reservoir and studied at Anglo-Chinese School (ACS, Independent), has shocked the tiny island of 5.39-million, otherwise known as a “tiny red dot”, by winning a gold medal.


Nobody dared to bet Schooling who loves carrot cake and “char kuey teow” could deliver an Olympic gold medal, not when he was against American legend Michael Phelps who won a mind-boggling 22 gold medals – the all-time records for Olympics. But not only Schooling beats Phelps for the gold in the 100m butterfly final, he also created a new Olympic record.

Olympics Rio 2016 - Swimming - First Place and Champion - Laszlo Cseh, Chad Le Clos, Michael Phelp and Joseph Schooling

While Phelps, who’s also known as the “Baltimore Bullet”, couldn’t believe his 23rd career Olympic gold was snatched by a Singaporean, Schooling himself admits he needs time to sink in – to digest and realize what he has accomplished. Hoping his win will inspire more young sporting talents, Schooling said that Singaporeans should not underestimate their ability to do well in sports on the global stage.


Defending champion American Michael Phelps, five-time Olympic medallist Hungarian Laszlo Cseh and defending world champion South African Chad le Clos all clocked 51.14-sec to share second place – a rare 3-way for silver. But that was not as remarkable as Singaporean Joseph Schooling touching the wall in a record time of 50.39-sec.

Flashback 2008 – Michael Phelps With 13-year-old Joseph Schooling

Olympics Rio 2016 - Joseph Schooling – New Olympics Record At 50.39sec

Interestingly, Michael Phelps was Joseph Schooling’s childhood idol. The 21-year-old Singaporean hero met Phelps by chance when he was 13 and had his photograph taken with him. Back then in 2008, Phelps was in Singapore preparing for the Beijing Olympics and was training at one of the pools where Schooling also practiced.


Eight years later today, Joseph Schooling will not only be remembered as the Singaporean boy who broke the Olympics record and delivers the first-ever gold medal to the country, but also as the boy who stopped the supposedly unstoppable defending champion Michael Phelps – who had not lost the event at the Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Games.

Olympics Rio 2016 - Swimming - Laszlo Cseh, Chad Le Clos, Michael Phelp and Joseph Schooling

Schooling was supposed to serve 2 years of “mandatory” National Service but a year after competed at the 2012 London Olympics the swimming star’s mother, May, and father, Colin, negotiated with the Government of Singapore. The government agreed to defer Schooling enlistment for 3 years. Today, it pays off handsomely.


However, now that the National Service deferment is coming to an end, it remains unclear if Schooling will request the Singapore Ministry of Defence to grant him yet another long-term deferment to train for the Tokyo Games so that he can defend his 100m butterfly Olympic gold. The Singapore government is expected to be under pressure from the public if such request is rejected.
Singapore National Service - Marching

After writing himself into the Singapore’s history books, Schooling said – “This moment’s not about me, it’s all about my coaches, my friends, my family that believed that when I was a 6-year-old kid that I can do it. So this swim wasn’t for me, it’s for my country, family and all those people that supported me and believed in me.”


By clinching Olympic gold, Schooling will also stand to receive US$1 million from the Singapore National Olympic Council, as part of its Multi-Million dollar Awards Programme. After deducting 20% of that amount to the Singapore Swimming Association, he will keep about US$750,000 after taxes. Equally sweet is the fact that this is also the first ever gold medal by a Southeast Asian male swimmer.

Olympics Rio 2016 - Joseph Schooling Screams After Winning Gold Medal

Schooling left Singapore when he was 13 and moved to Florida to train at the Bolles School, living in a boarding house with older boys. His coach was Sergio Lopez, the Spaniard who won a bronze medal in breaststroke at the 1998 Olympics. With his historic gold medal win, Schooling has had to change his travel schedule.


He had initially planned to fly to the United States on Sunday to start school at the University of Texas. Now, he has to return home for the gold-medal party that Singaporeans will throw for their swimming hero. Even Singapore Changi Airport Group has put up a post on their Facebook page announcing the “arrival of Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal”, where he is scheduled to touch down on Monday, 5:30am on flight SQ67.

Singapore Olympic Gold Medalist Joseph Schooling - Arrival Greeting from Changi Airport

Will Joseph Schooling be able to achieve this if he hadn’t met his hero Michael Phelps 8 years ago? Probably not, as Schooling said – “If it wasn’t for Michael, I don’t think I could have gotten to this point. I wanted to be like him as a kid. I think a lot of this is because of Michael. He is the reason why I wanted to be a better swimmer.”


They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes. Believe it or not, Katie Ledecky had taken a photo with Phelps when she was nine. She won his first gold at the age of 15 and is a five-time Olympic gold medalist, and nine-time world champion. So does Daiya Seto, the 22-year-old from Japan who won bronze in the 400m medley.

First-Ever Olympics Gold Medal For Singapore – Joseph Schooling


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