Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling put on a show in his capacity as a Texas Longhorn swimmer at the 2016 NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships last week. As just a sophomore, Schooling blasted crucially fast splits on all 5 of his squad’s relays, as well as clocked 2 monster individual fly swims. In those individual events, Schooling rocked a U.S. Open Record in both the 100y butterfly (44.01) and 200y butterfly (1:37.97), becoming the first man to stop the clock under 1:38 in the latter event.
For all his feats over short course yards, Schooling has also proven to be a threatening weapon on the long course scene as well. At last year’s FINA World Championships, the 20-year-old stunned a star-studded field to take the bronze in the men’s 100m butterfly event in a time of 50.96, a new Singaporean and Asian Record.
In fact, in the last 12 months, Schooling has been faster than every American not named Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly, a stat which bodes well heading into the final stretch before the Games in Rio, which will mark Schooling’s 2nd Olympic appearance.
According to AsiaOne, Schooling and Singapore Head Coach Sergio Lopez have confirmed the young gun’s schedule for Rio, saying he will compete in two events, of which one is certain and the other is still to be determined. While Schooling has earned the FINA A cuts in 3 events – the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and 100m freestyle – he will swim just 2 of those races. The 100m butterfly is for sure on his schedule, while the pair are considering either the 200m fly or 100m free as his 2nd event.
“Jo hasn’t had good times in the 200m fly, but that doesn’t mean he cannot come up with one now because he has been training for it,” says Lopez, who coached Schooling for 5 years at the Bolles School prior to the athlete moving on to Texas.
Schooling finished in 10th place in the 200m fly event at last summer’s World Championships, clocking a time of 1:56.11, whereas Phelps crushed a world-leading 1:52.94 in the event at the U.S. Nationals meet, which occurred simultaneously as Kazan. Schooling’s personal best in the event is the 1:55.73 he registered at 2015’s Southeast Asian Games, a time which sits as the Singaporean National Record.
Historically, Phelps has not contested the 100m freestyle on the Olympic level aside from a relay appearance. For his part, Schooling has seen success in the sprint race over his budding career.
“As for the 100m free, he set his national record of 48.58 at last year’s SEA Games without being 100 per cent. He knows he is capable of a 47-something, which would have been good enough to medal at the World Championships,” says Lopez. “If he does that at the Olympics, he can win a medal in the 100m free.”
Last year’s World Championships saw China’s Ning Zetao take the gold in a time of 47.84, with Australia’s Cameron McEvoy as the only other sub-48 swimmer in 47.95. In the final at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the top 5 finishers all scored times under the 48-second mark.
Schooling’s mind is set on winning, however, having gained confidence with his performances in the pool matching up with those of past butterfly Olympic medal winners Phelps and South African Chad Le Clos.
“It’s nice to do well against these guys who are some of the best swimmers around, but I’ve reached the stage now where I don’t really care who I’m up against, whether they are 12 years old or 33 years old, it’s all about winning the race,” Schooling says.
“It feels good to be regarded as a contender. When someone writes me off, I use that to my advantage because I’m really stubborn and I want to prove them wrong. But when I’m among the favourites, that’s great too because it’s a recognition of how hard I’ve worked to get there, and I want to live up to that billing,” comments Schooling.
The Singaporean is realistic as well, acknowledging, “I’m not really closely monitoring Phelps or Le Clos, but I have an intuitive feel that they are ready and they will be hard to beat.”
That may be true, but as far as Coach Lopez is concerned, Schooling has at least one advantage over most of the world’s elite – that of youth. “Jo is not an underdog anymore, he will be regarded as one of the medal contenders. The advantage Jo has over the rest of the field is none of them are aged 18 to 20…They are 23 to 31 and have been swimming within their best times for a while now, while Jo can still make big improvements with his times.”
Said the Singapore coach, “The work Jo has done reaffirms that he is one of the best in the world. Phelps is intelligent and experienced. He will analyse his competition left and right and he will have Jo in his sights.
“I know Chad’s coach and I know they are definitely aware of Jo.”