A medal that can change mindsets
Joseph Schooling hopes his Olympic success will inspire Singaporeans to chase their sporting dreams
This, many Singaporeans would never have thought possible.
That in their lifetime, one of their own would climb the top step and be called Olympic champion.
Now we know, what a gifted young Singaporean can accomplish in his field of dreams.
As a six-year-old, Joseph Schooling dreamed of becoming an Olympic winner.
Yesterday morning (Singapore time), here in Rio at the 2016 Games, he splashed his way into the record books. Mission accomplished.
The 21-year-old won the men's 100m butterfly in an Olympic record time of 50.39 seconds, outclassing the world's best and receiving his membership card into an exclusive club.
On it, it says: Olympic gold medallist, Joseph Schooling, Singapore.
Now he knows what it feels like to fulfil a dream.
Now we know what it feels like to sing Majulah Singapura as one of our own stands on that hallowed podium, shining gold next to his heart as the Singapore flag is raised the highest at the Olympic Games.
At a packed post-race press conference more than an hour after his mighty race at the Olympic Aquatics Centre, The New Paper on Sunday asked Schooling what it felt like to achieve his dream, and he said: "It hasn't really sunk in, yet. I think it will take a couple of days where I can chill out for it to hit me.
"Right now, I can say that this is for my country, my friends, my family and all those people who supported me and believed in me."
Now we know a Singaporean can beat Michael Phelps.
No one outside of our island nation believed it was possible. Maybe, deep down, many Singaporeans also did not think the American world-record holder (49.82) could be beaten.
Phelps, the greatest Olympian and owner of a record 22 gold medals, had not lost the event in the three previous Games.
The 31-year-old was the world's favourite. He had already won four golds here and he would know what to do in the final, they said.
But Schooling was not going to be beaten.
Maybe we should have known after the opening round of heats, when he led a field of 16 into the semi-finals with an easy, powerful swim.
Maybe we should have known when he emerged first again after the semi-finals, clocking 50.83 to set a new Asian and national record.
Schooling was never behind in both his swims and when it mattered the most he was, once again, always in front.
The University of Texas undergraduate led from the start and never relinquished his lead, even surprising the GREATEST.
"I knew Joe was great underwater. He was clearly the most prepared in the field and his turn was very good," said a warm and magnanimous Phelps, who incredibly finished joint second with South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, the first time there was a three-way tie at an Olympic swimming event.
"It is what it is... I hate to lose, but I accept this. Hats off to Joe. I look forward to seeing how he progresses in the next four years...
"I'm excited to see how much faster he can go. To see someone break 50 (seconds) will be exciting."
This is Phelps' final Olympics.
Schooling is only getting started and now dreams his feat will ignite Singapore sport.
"I hope this changes our sporting culture and mindset about sport. We know now a small country can produce Olympic champions," he said.
"I hope this opens a new door, opens more doors, for sports in our country.
"Hopefully, I've set a precedent for a lot more young guys to come through."
And young girls too, of course.
Now we know what can be accomplished if all the levers are pulled together in one direction.
Dad and mum Colin and May Schooling allowed their son to chase his dream and backed him to the hilt.
He was tutored by world-class coaches - Sergio Lopez and, more recently, Eddie Reese.
The Schooling camp drew up a detailed blueprint to request deferment from National Service. Mindef believed, and Singapore has just made a thrilling mark on the global stage of sport with a first Olympic gold medal.
Generation after generation, a sports-mad nation did not think it was possible.
Talented sportsmen and sportswomen toiled blood, sweat and tears. There was some measure of success, but conquering the Olympic peak seemed an impossible dream.
There was anger, internal bickering and loud complaints over a lack of support from the highest levels.
The paper chase set in and the importance of sports excellence waned.
Schooling overcame all the baggage and all the pressure, and has now restored the faith.
"You can't learn to handle pressure overnight," said the easy-going, confident youngster.
"I've had a lot of failures to learn from.
"Like Michael said, it's about how badly you want it. It's all about belief."
They built a temporary Olympic swimming arena in Rio for the Olympics, and Phelps came.
Schooling came, and fired up a nation.
Now, because of him, we believe in the field of dreams.
"My heartiest congratulations to Joseph Isaac Schooling for his historic gold medal win, and Olympic record of 50.39 seconds for the 100m butterfly! This is Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal ever, and also our first medal for #Rio2016. It is an incredible feat to compete among the world’s best, stay focussed, and emerge victorious. Congrats once again to Joseph, you made us very proud today."
— Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
What international media say...
It shows a young swimmer, at just 21-years-old, ushering in a new age of the 100m butterfly. There's no more Phelps, no more Crocker, no more Milorad Cavic, no more of Phelps' old competitors that he had to defeat one last time. After the race Phelps told Schooling, "good job, that was a great race." Schooling said to him, "Four more years?" Phelps replied, "no way."
They say you shouldn't meet your heroes. Schooling beat his.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Phelps said he was proud of Schooling. Seeing his time gave Phelps permission to retire. The next generation is all right.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
When Arthur Mailey, as a teenaged spin bowler, dismissed his hero Victor Trumper, he "felt like a boy who had killed a dove". A similar sentiment was written on the face of Joseph Schooling, the 21-year-old Singaporean whose butterfly wings caused the earth to open up beneath the greatest champion of all, Michael Phelps.