'Son, you did it'
Dad Colin traces the challenging route of Schooling from the bathtub frolic to Olympic gold
Hand him a toy, and he would push it aside.
Throw him a ball, and he would toss it back.
As a two-year-old toddler, his world was a bathtub.
He would frolic in his little cast-iron domain for hours, nonchalantly scooping water from it and wetting his hair in glee.
And Colin Schooling and wife May would have a difficult time trying to get their only son out of the tub.
Now you cannot get him out of the world spotlight.
For Joseph Schooling made history yesterday morning, writing a new chapter into the annals of Singapore sport with a magnificent swim unseen by a Singaporean.
And, in the process, he submerged the challenges of three of the world's greatest water wonders.
With that choreographed two-lap water-perfect stroking of the turquoise waters in Rio, Schooling made his idol American Michael Phelps, Hungarian Laszlo Cseh and South African Chad le Clos, all Olympic multi-medallists, play catch-up as he stormed to a wire-to-wire 100 metres butterfly triumph.
And, in just over 50 seconds, he presented Singapore with its first Olympic gold medal, that comes with a $1 million prize. In 68 years of participation in the quadrennial Games, all Singapore had garnered previously were two silvers and two bronzes.
And the first medallist, weightlifter Tan Howe Liang, 83, who won silver in Rome 1960, said: "What a race! He did himself and Singapore proud."
A man of few words, Tan added: "I watched the race at home, and I enjoyed it. Joseph was great. Better than me."
But that greatness did not come easy. It was a road littered with joy and frustrations, successes and setbacks.
And one lighted up with one big dream. A faraway vision, brought near by a longing hope.
In an interview at his good friend Jimmy Teo's semi-detached house at Upper Thomson, where Colin and a group of 30 friends and mediamen watched the exciting race in Rio on television yesterday, Schooling's proud dad said: "Finally, it is worth it."
Colin Schooling (centre) revels in his son's historic achievement after watching him clinch Singapore's first Olympic gold "live" on TV. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES
Later, when Schooling called him from Rio, a teary Colin, 68, still trying to soak in the momentous event, replied: "Son, you did it. I was happy to hear the Majulah Singapura. And you were the reason for it. Congrats."
Then he related to me about how Schooling's talent was recognised at a very early age and how he graduated from the bathtub into Tanah Merah Country Club's swimming pool.
"He used to take plunges from the diving board, and his first coach 'Uncle' Poon took him under his wing because he felt that the boy had immense talent.
"After about five years with 'Uncle' Poon, he upgraded to a Chinese coach at SICC, and that was when I realised that my son is special, and that he could go very far in swimming.
"The boy himself told me of his desire to be a world-beater, and Olympic champion. And he asked me if I could chart a career for him towards that big dream. I discussed the matter with my wife, and we said we would give our all for Joe to realise his grand ambition."
The rest, they say, is history.
No doubt, Colin was encouraged by the fact that his own parents were top athletes, having represented club and country and in various sports.
Colin himself was a recognised sportsman; a national softballer and a recognised hurdler, and now decent golfer.
Wife May was also a big-name sportswoman, having played inter-state tennis in Malaysia.
"So the DNA was right, the genes were there and, after Joe met my uncle Lloyd Valberg, who competed in the high jump at the 1948 London Olympics, he was convinced that he wanted to follow in his footsteps; be an Olympian, then go for gold."
Schooling at the age of 13 with parents Colin and May. ST FILE PHOTO
And "going for gold" was what Schooling said after his semi-final best time on Thursday at the Olympics Aquatic Centre in Rio.
If that was arrogance on his part, it was one that all top sportsmen have. Read: Muhammad Ali.
If that was confidence manifested in full measure, it was one that sporting world-beaters must express. Read: Usain Bolt.
If that was a psyche that he demanded, it was one that history-chasers must harbour. Read: Michael Phelps.
I have known Schooling, about whom I was the first sports journalist to write an article when he was eight, for almost 13 years.
HUNGER FOR SUCCESS
Affable, responsible, disciplined and with a hunger for success and a disdain for defeat, Schooling was an extraordinary swimmer even before he became a teen.
Some 10 years ago, Colin showed me well-researched statistics to underline that his son was world class among his age-group swimmers round the globe.
Then Colin, after an assigned bone-mass study, told me that Schooling would grow to be 1.88m in height. And he wasn't far wrong.
Such was the backing that Schooling received from his parents who, it is said, have spent almost $1 million his 15-year-journey to sport's summit.
And Colin was thankful to his good friends, able coaches (as Colin says namely Sergio Lopez and Eddie Reese) and the far-sighted swimming association when he traced his swimming route.
That glorious route had a happy ending yesterday, with that stand on the podium - flanked by three of the greatest swimmers who tied for silver.
But, in fact, it was a new beginning.
"Come and take it", was the tattoo on Schooling's back, in line with historic American slogan, used in 1778 at Fort Morris in the Province of Georgia during the American Revolutionary War, and in 1835 at the Battle of Gonzales during the Texas Revolution.
How apt that line. The hunter has now become the hunted.