Schooling's first coach: 'It was an emotional moment'
'Uncle Vincent' postpones morning class to watch 'once-in-a-lifetime' moment
For nearly 50 years, swimming instructor Vincent Poon hardly ever missed teaching a Saturday class.
But yesterday, Poon, 69, made an exception to postpone his morning session to watch one of his former students on TV.
About 17 years ago, there was a precocious four-year-old boy who took lessons with Poon at Tanah Merah Country Club.
From a young age, that child loved the water and always puts in his best in competitions.
The "nice boy" that Poon remembers fondly was Joseph Schooling, now 21, who made Singapore proud and Olympic history with a record of 50.39 seconds in the 100m butterfly final yesterday.
Poon, who watched his former student's stellar performance live on television at home yesterday, told The New Paper on Sunday: "It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I wanted to catch it live.
"It was a truly emotional moment for me. I almost couldn't believe it actually happened."
This is the first time Poon has watched his former student in Rio, Brazil, live on TV.
Before that, he had been following Schooling's exploits in Rio closely on the news. He also occasionally keeps newspaper clippings on his protege.
The swimming coach, who has been in the profession since 1967, estimates that he has taught over a thousand kids over the years.
Known as Uncle Vincent to Schooling, the friendly coach, who has no children of his own, always tries to make swimming interesting for his young students.
And perhaps this was how the young Olympian got hooked to the sport.
In a previous interview, Schooling would recount how Poon would tell him that a shark was chasing him in the pool and urge him to swim faster.
Poon said with a hearty laugh: "You have to make it fun, so that kids would want to keep coming back for classes."
Schooling started training with Poon when he was four. From the time he was six to 12, he had swimming lessons twice a week.
Even at a young age, Schooling's potential was undeniable and Poon recognised it.
During training sessions, Poon would give the other kids a 10-second headstart to push Schooling harder.
"He wouldn't cry if he lost, but just tries harder," he recalled.
Poon also encouraged Schooling's dad, Colin, to consider sending his son abroad to train professionally.
Schooling went to the United States to study and train at swimming powerhouse Bolles School in 2009, at the age of 14.
Poon thinks that the decision was crucial to Schooling's swimming career.
He said: "He would be able to fully concentrate on his swimming without worrying too much about studies and tests.
"The overseas instructors have more advanced (training) methods and he gets to compete with world-class swimmers.
"You can only become the best, when you compete with the best."
Poon, who currently teaches between 15 to 20 students from age three to 10, says that his students and their parents know about his most outstanding student and are huge fans.
Despite Schooling's achievements, he thinks that most Singaporean parents are too "kiasu" to allow their children to focus solely on swimming as Schooling did.
Nonetheless Poon believes that Schooling's win will inspire young swimmers here.
He said: "Everyone is very proud of him.
"His win is a birthday gift for the people of Singapore."