Singaporean Olympian champion Joseph Schooling will move to Virginia this weekend to start training under his former coach Sergio Lopez with six months to go until Tokyo, so SwimSwam caught up with the storied coach to learn more about the partnership.
Schooling visited the Swim Pinnacle Racing pro group back in December and liked what he saw, Lopez told SwimSwam. The internationally diverse group is currently 15-strong, he said, including four swimmers who are already qualified for the Tokyo Games.
Among Schooling’s potential training partners will be Bulgarian butterflier Antani Ivanov, a current sophomore at Virginia Tech who finished ninth in the 200 fly at Worlds last year, Lopez said.
“I think if you just look at what we have here, we have a pretty good situation for him where it’s quiet right now,” Lopez said. “I think most important for me is that I’ve known Joe since he was 12 years old. I think we’re pretty good friends, and I would say he’s family. … We go back so much with not just swimming, but everything else.”
Lopez previously coached Schooling when he attended The Bolles School in Florida from 2010-2014, and as head coach of the Singaporean National Team after that. In Florida, Schooling and Lopez overlapped with a now-decorated group of swimmers that includes Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Murphy and Santo Condorelli.
“He’s an Olympic champion and nobody can take that away from him. He wrote history four years ago,” Lopez added. “Now, he just needs to go up there and fight, and you never know what can happen.”
Lopez says he has one goal for Schooling, and it’s not winning gold in Tokyo (though that would be a nice bonus): it’s giving his all for the next six months.
“I’m not worried about Joe winning a gold medal or not. It’s always been that the only thing that Joe needs to do is give his 100% at that moment in time. And the reason why he’s coming here. … And my goal here, myself with my staff, is going to be to give him support and to make him understand that it doesn’t matter: you win a gold, you don’t, it doesn’t matter as long as he’s honest and he gives his 100% effort. That’s the most important thing.”
Since his 2016 performance, School has been unable to ascend the international ranks. He did not advance out of prelims in the 100 fly at the 2019 FINA World Championships last summer, finishing over 2.5 seconds behind his Rio-winning time.
Part of the plan in Blacksburg is for Schooling to get back in touch with his roots — why he enjoyed the sport in the first place.
“Joe needs to get back to the reason why he was swimming and started to swim,” Lopez said. “You know, if you look at the picture of him and Michael Phelps in 2008, he was just a kid with a dream and he was excited to race, and he loved swimming and loved racing, and he needs to get back to that.”
Lopez added that he is aware of what training Schooling has been doing under Singapore’s staff, and says he’s been “more consistent.”
“So I’m very thankful that Gary [Tan] and Stephan [Widmer] and Sonya [Porter] really believe in this — in this adventure that we’re taking — and have been very supportive. And they understand that I believe that this is a product of Singapore swimming and us working together,” Lopez said.
“If he wins the gold or if he doesn’t, that’s a different story — I guess we’re going to know at the end of July. But I’m not worried about that. To me, Joseph is family. And if I can help him, and I can be with him, for the good and the not so good, I’m 100% in.”