Schooling: I lost myself after Olympic success, but now I'm back
Singapore's Olympic champion admits success turned his head, but says he has regained his focus since
He joked about having a rambunctious celebration to mark his 22nd birthday this Friday.
But in reality, Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling will be having a quiet all-you-can-eat dinner with his mother May and a couple of close teammates at a Brazilian steakhouse.
The butterfly king admitted that he got "lost" amid the adulation following the Rio Olympics last year, but insisted that he has his head screwed back on, with just over a month to go before the Fina World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
"I am back, and I am happy where I am at," the University of Texas (UT) undergraduate told The New Paper yesterday in a phone interview from the US.
After he made history by winning in the 100m fly to clinch Singapore's first-ever Olympic gold medal, everyone wanted a piece of Schooling.
The media obligations grew, and he was also invited to attend many events.
He also resisted coach Eddie Reese's request for him to restart his twice-daily training regime.
He eventually settled down to train, but it was not enough. He relinquished his 100-yard and 200-yard fly titles at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) swimming championships in March.
Those were sobering losses for Schooling, who has learned to balance training with his other new commitments.
"I kind of lost myself... I definitely understand the situation (of extra attention) better, and I know how to manage it now," he said.
"Having so much attention, and in such a large scale, can definitely be overwhelming, and you can definitely lose yourself, and that was where I was from August to December last year.
"Now, I tell myself 'keep doing well, accomplish what you want to do, all the opportunities will come and you can enjoy them when you're done with swimming'.
"I've definitely learned to say no to certain opportunities, because I have to take care of my swimming, and I definitely forgot swimming was the priority in the first semester after the Olympics."
Since the NCAAs, Schooling has been training with his UT coach Reese for the world championships, with just a whistle-stop trip back to Singapore last month for the ONE Championship event here.
And, despite still being in the hard training phase, Schooling clocked several world-class times at the Texas Senior Circuit last week at College Station, Texas.
His 51.82sec effort in the 100m fly is the seventh-fastest in the world, while his 23.51sec swim in the 50m fly ranks him 12th in the world this year.
He also clocked 2min 00.21sec in the heats of the 200m fly, but decided to skip the final as he was already satisfied with what he saw in the heats.
Schooling said: "It's always hard to break the two-minute mark in the morning heats, swimming next to no one.
"But I've looked at my splits; I backed off the third 50m a bit too much, but I came back strong (in the last lap).
"That means I am fit, I am ready to go, and that was what I was looking for... with more rest the race is going to be easier, and if you put someone next to me, I'm definitely going to go way faster."
Schooling is pencilled in for four events in Budapest - 50m, 100m and 200m fly, and the 100m freestyle.
In the 100m fly, he is chasing Michael Phelps' world record of 49.82sec, set in 2009 in the now-banned "super suits".
Schooling's winning time of 50.39sec in Rio, an Olympic record, is the third-fastest time ever, and the fastest in a textile suit.
But, even though he has Phelps' mark in his sights at the upcoming world championships, Schooling said his physical and mental approach to swimming has not changed.
He said: "First and foremost, it's all about winning, that's the No. 1 thing. The timing is just there as a means to push me to go faster.
"But now that I have won in Rio, my situation warrants me to care about the timing; that's what I am up against and the only thing I can push myself with.
"You are racing against yourself, not anyone else."