School stops school to cheer Schooling on
The restless pupils had gathered, eyes glued to the huge projector screen on stage in their school hall.
Whispering excitedly, they sat and waited, eagerly anticipating what was to unfold on the giant TV screen.
In walked Joseph Schooling, 21, taking his place among the other competitors at the starting block at the Olympics Aquatic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, some 15,700km away.
The 21-year-old may be in Rio, but to the pupils of Nanyang Primary School, they were right there with him.
It was a similar scene across Singapore at about 10.30am yesterday, as Singaporeans from all walks of life dropped whatever they were doing for a minute or so to watch our local boy race and make history.
For some, like student Koh Hui Yu, 21, it was a planned activity with her parents in the comfort of their home.
"We set aside some time to watch his race," she told The New Paper, adding that they had set an alarm the day before.
For others, such as the employees of Lagardère Sports Asia, a sports events management and television production company, it was an impromptu gathering by the staff in front of the television set at their office in Shenton Way.
Back at Nanyang Primary School, 800 pupils who had gathered in the hall with their teachers began chanting Schooling's name as he prepared to race.
As soon as the buzzer went off, they started cheering.
As Schooling dived into the pool and swam the race of his life, their cheers got louder, and so did the clapping and screaming.
It built up to a crescendo when the Singaporean emerged first, with pupils screaming and throwing their hands up in the air in jubilation.
Such was the joy the victory brought to everyone.
With a timing of 50.83s in the Men's 100m butterfly semi-finals - a new Asian and national record - Schooling had become the first male Singaporean to reach an Olympic swimming final.
It was also the fastest time in the 100m butterfly this year and he progressed to the final as the top qualifier, ahead of American swim legend and defending champion Michael Phelps (51.58s) of the United States.
The finals will take place at about 9.10am today.
Mr Lim Chee Min, 42, a physical education teacher at Nanyang Primary School, called Schooling the "hope of Singapore".
"The students were all initially sitting down, but by the end, everyone at the back was on their feet celebrating, even the teachers," he said. "In that moment, all focus was on the hope of Singapore."
Principal Lee Hui Feng said she had gathered the pupils to witness the event and to inspire them.
"We did it to get students to dream, to be inspired and to forge the Singapore spirit," she said.
She added: "There is a photo of Schooling meeting his idol Phelps when he was younger, and on Monday I am going to show the students the photo, to inspire them again."
Ms Cheryl Tan, 26, an associate at Lagardère Sports Asia, told TNP that all the employees felt a sense of pride for Singapore.
"I think we're all very proud of him (Schooling) and of how far Team Singapore has come," she said.
"I think we also can't discount the fact that Quah Zheng Wen has also made history by getting himself into the semi-finals, which was a pleasant surprise."
Social media was abuzz yesterday with Schooling's triumph, with many cheering him on.
As for the race today, there is no doubt the whole of Singapore is going to be glued to the TV screen, waiting with baited breadth.
Said Miss Koh: "Can't miss this race. I'm definitely setting aside time for it."