Schooling has mindset to win a medal at worlds, says coach
National coach Lopez says Schooling has chance to medal at Worlds with a bit of luck
As the biggest fish in one of world swimming's smallest ponds, Singapore's Joseph Schooling has set his sights on making a huge splash in the swimming competition of the world championships in Kazan, Russia, starting on Sunday.
Singapore has never won a swimming medal at the Olympics or world championships but the 20-year-old is the country's best prospect to do so in years.
Schooling won a silver medal in the 100 meters butterfly at last year's Commonwealth Games in Scotland when he finished just behind South Africa's Olympic champion Chad le Clos.
A few months later, he became the first Singaporean man in 32 years, since Ang Peng Siong in 1982, to win a gold medal in swimming at the Asian Games, beating the best from the region's superpowers such as China and Japan.
Earlier this year, he completely dominated the South-east Asia (SEA) Games here, winning gold medals in each of the nine events he entered.
He was able to dominate despite not having fully tapered for the meet and embarking on a gruelling schedule that he has no intentions of trying to match at the world championships.
"For Joseph to come in, not fully rested and make a statement like that, I take my hat off to him," Singapore's national head coach Sergio Lopez said of Schooling's exploits at last month's SEA Games in an interview with Reuters yesterday.
"But, for Joseph, being the best in South-east Asia is not his goal.
"He wants to win a medal at the world championships and the Olympics."
Lopez knows what it takes to get to the top, winning medals for Spain at the Olympics, world and European championships before hanging up his goggles and switching to coaching.
He coached Schooling in Florida for five years when the Singaporean first moved to the United States to train with the best and remains in close contact with him.
Schooling now studies and trains in Texas while Lopez has taken on a new role in charge of the Singaporean national team, a job he took partly because he was impressed by what he saw in Schooling.
"We're a small country, five million people but, if we work together, we can be one of the best small countries in the world," he said.
"The kids in Singapore are really hungry to be good. Everyone knows they excel at school and now thay have a chance to be excellent in something they are passionate about.
"These kids are looking for leaders and Joseph is definitely one of them, so whatever he does will help others."
For the world championships, Schooling is ditching the lung-bursting programme he swam at the SEA Games to focus entirely on his best stroke - the butterfly.
Although he qualified in other events, he knows his best chance of success is to conserve himself, so he has entered in just the 50m, 100m, and 200m butterfly, with the 100m his best chance of getting on the podium.
The eight-day swimming programme in Kazan starts on Sunday.
"He doesn't need all those other events right now.
"What he really needs is to have the experience of fighting for a medal, at the highest level," Lopez said.
"That's his goal and, while it's going to be very hard, he has the potential and the mindset.
"Of course, there are a lot of other people who have that as well, so it's just a matter of what's going to happen in the next 12 months but, with a bit of luck, he could win a medal."
“What he really needs is to have the experience of fighting for a medal, at the highest level.”
- Coach Sergio Lopez (above) on Joseph Schooling
Can the US find their swagger?
LEADING THE AMERICAN CHARGE
NATHAN ADRIAN. PHOTOS: REUTERS, ACTION IMAGES
Vulnerable, or perfectly primed to destroy the opposition - that's the tantalising question surrounding the United States team headed to Russia for the world championships.
Marquee names including Olympic champions Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky, Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian ought to rank the Americans as favourites for multiple gold medals at the meet that will set the tone for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But treble world record-holder Ledecky is the only American to top this year's world rankings in her events, with the year's best times in the 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyle.
USA Swimming's decision to select the team last year has allowed the Americans to train through the season without tapering for trials.
The idea is that with months of barely interrupted training behind them, they'll be at their best when they take on the world in Kazan.
But the fiery test of the US trials also serves to bond and motivate American teams, and men's coach Dave Durden admitted that one of his tasks will be to build that emotion and unity.
"We normally go to these championships coming off a selection meet," Durden said. "You qualify for the meet with a bit of a euphoric high and take that to the meet. We had that, but it was last year."
Instead, he tried to foster the typical US swagger at a pre-meet men's training camp in Croatia.
"We're going to have to create a bit of an atmosphere, a little bit of a psychological edge," he said.
One weapon Durden won't have at his disposal is 18-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps, whose comeback aimed at the Rio Games was disrupted last autumn by a drink-driving arrest.
In addition to serving a six-month ban, Phelps agreed to withdraw from the world championships.
Despite Fina's desire to welcome the greatest star to its biggest event, Phelps will be swimming half the world away at the US nationals in Texas.
But the US men boast plenty of experience in Lochte, Adrian, Anthony Ervin, Tyler Clary and Matt Grevers.
The coach is confident that when it's time to shine, his swimmers will have the speed they need.
But Franklin - who starred in college competition early this season - underscored the air of uncertainty after failing to win an event at the Santa Clara pro swim last month - her only world championships tune-up.
"All my strokes felt really strong and powerful," Franklin said. "There just wasn't a whole lot of speed there, which, I guess, is right where I want to be right now."
For Lochte, who has long thrived on a tough training regime, these Worlds are a chance to show he's bounced back from a 2014 he called "probably my worst year of swimming".
Lochte injured his left knee in November of 2013 and a premature return to competition in February last year set him back.
Now, he says, "I'm just becoming my normal self again".
Lochte, the three-time defending world champion in the 200m individual medley, will benefit from the absence of Phelps as well as Japan's Kosuke Hagino - who beat both Phelps and Lochte at the Pan Pacific Championships last year.
Lochte, a five-time Olympic champion and who has 15 long-course world championship gold medals - said there would be plenty of new challengers ready to unseat him.
"There's a bunch of other people out there," Lochte said. "Just because they're not there doesn't mean it should be a shoo-in for me." - AFP.
Ishchenko wins record 21st medal
Russia's Natalia Ishchenko became the most decorated synchronised swimmer of all time on Wednesday as she won her 21st major medal by taking gold in the individual freestyle at the world championships in Kazan, Russia.
Returning to action after having a baby, Ischenko racked up a score of 97.2333 points to relegate China's Huang Xuechen into silver position on 95.7000, while Spaniard Ona Carbonell claimed bronze on 94.9000.
The 29-year-old Ishchenko is a three-time Olympic champion and won the first of her 18 world titles in 2005.
Meanwhile, Germany retained their team open water title over five kilometres yesterday. The German trio of Rob Muffels, Christian Reichert and Isabelle Haerle clocked 55min 14.4sec, ahead of Brazil and Holland, who both finished 16.8sec behind the winners. - AFP.