Sweetenham: 'Schooling must stay focused'
Renowned coach Sweetenham says Singapore's top star has potential to break Phelps' 100m fly record
With slightly more than a month to go before the Fina World Championships in Hungary, the question on everyone's mind is: Can anyone break Michael Phelps' 100m butterfly world record of 49.82 seconds which has stood for eight years?
Singapore's first Olympic champion Joseph Schooling, who beat Phelps to win the 100m fly gold medal with an Olympic record of 50.39sec in Rio de Janeiro last year, had previously stated his desire to break the American legend's record at the world meet next month.
Schooling's Olympic-winning time is the third fastest of all time, and the fastest in a textile suit.
Phelps' record was set in the era of the performance-enhancing "super suits" in swimming.
Renowned swim coach Bill Sweetenham, who is in Singapore to conduct coaching clinics at the Chinese Swimming Club (CSC), was hesitant when asked to predict if Phelps' 100m fly world record will be broken at the World Championships next month.
But he believes Schooling has the potential to do it, if certain conditions are met.
"Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete who's ever lived, swimming or otherwise," the 67-year-old Australian told The New Paper at CSC yesterday.
"Only a fool will predict anything negative about Michael Phelps' performances... but there's no question that Joseph Schooling has that potential.
"I know the Schoolings well and, if they asked me for advice, it would be to stay grounded, stay focused and avoid distractions because these would limit his potential."
Sweetenham, who served as head coach for three different countries at five Olympic Games, explained that some athletes do get "complacent and contented" after winning at the Olympics, and lose their focus and hunger after that.
Even with his experience, the former Swimming Australia national youth coach and British Swimming national performance director acknowledged that it was difficult to advise athletes in such situations.
Schooling, who turns 22 later this month, admitted in a recent Straits Times interview that a lack of motivation and complacency had crept in following his heroics in Brazil last year.
With any success, demands for an athlete's attention are inevitable, especially if they come from existing or potential sponsors, whose funds are vital in maintaining the athlete's career.
And Schooling has already felt that attention, even if the University of Texas undergraduate has not taken on sponsorships that would affect his eligibility to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association meets.
Sweetenham added: "I think Joseph can achieve whatever he wants to do, provided he remains grounded, focused and removed from distractions, the same way he was before the Olympics.
"Will he be called on at times (to satisfy external obligations)?
"Yes, but he has to manage that. That's part of being a professional athlete.
"It isn't easy, but what he did by winning the gold medal wasn't easy, so he has to put in place those same structures to take him up that next step."