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OLYMPIC SPIRIT: World champion Dafne Schippers (right) congratulates Elaine Thompson (below) after losing out to her in the 100m final. 

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A real Singapore son

'Joemania' hits Singapore as large crowds pay tribute to our first Olympic gold medallist

HERO'S WELCOME: Singaporeans gathered at the Singtel Comcentre Plaza honouring Joseph Schooling (far left).

COMMENT

Singaporeans are used to sporting victory parades.

We have read about badminton maestro Wong Peng Soon and his Thomas Cup team being taken on a coach ride through the city after their triumphs in the Fifties.

Weightlifter Tan Howe Liang was honoured with one such parade - and a banquet - after his Olympic Games silver medal in 1960 in Rome.

Tan was escorted by motorcycle riders from his airport arrival to the city square after a fire-cracker welcome to set off the celebrations for his first Olympic medal for the country.

Our Malaysia Cup football heroes - Fandi Ahmad, Quah Kim Song and S. Rajagopal, et al - have experienced this euphoria after the inter-state victories in 1980 and 1994.

But those parades paled in comparison to what I witnessed from the open-top double-decker in the company of our swimming sensation Joseph Schooling, 21.

The charming personality had mined an Olympic gold medal - a historic first for Singapore - from the turquoise waters of the Rio Aquatic Centre last Saturday.

And that too in dramatic fashion, leaving his three world-class rivals, Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Lazlo Cseh, overawed while they shared the silver medal as Schooling cruised to victory in an Olympic record time.

That time of 50.39 seconds is etched in every Singaporean's mind, judging by the spontaneously-quick response when queried by the compere at regular intervals along the 24-kilometre coach ride from the Sports Hub, Marine Parade, Comcentre at Orchard Road to Raffles City at Bras Basah Road.

The parades of the Fifties and Sixties drew smaller crowds and were over a shorter stretch.

The football versions had big turnouts, but they were also over a curtailed route ending at the National Stadium and the spotlight was shared among a bunch of players.

EXTRAORDINARY

But yesterday's extraordinary parade was all about one man; whose imposing presence, intelligent answers, easy disposition and down-to-earth mannerisms impressed many Singaporeans.

The crowds that greeted and honoured him were young and old, blue and white collared, schoolchildren in uniforms, uncles and aunties at a hawker centre and executives from Orchard Road offices.

And all of them wanted a share of Schooling, either with or of him from handphones and selfies as they continued to chant his name.

Schooling's addresses were punctuated with patriotic lines.

"I am proud to be Singaporean, my family is here, my friends are here and this is my country" has been his favourite refrain. And a reaffirmation of allegiance to Singapore.

During the coach ride, his renowned coach Sergio Lopez, an Olympic medallist himself, confessed: "He was among my better students at school. I knew he was set for big things when he first came to me. He felt tension during the historic race. But, once he hit the turn first, I knew the gold was his."

Schooling is a natural sportsman, who also excels in golf. He picked up golf and swimming at the age of four. He has an eight handicap in golf and whacks a massive 275-metre average off the tee.

He was named after his great grandfather, a British officer and good sportsman who displayed tremendous courage in whatever he did.

From another world, the late Joseph Schooling would only have great admiration for his highly talented namesake who summed up yesterday's "Joemania" event as "truly awesome".

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