Asian Games swim star Schooling believes he can beat the best
He stood on the podium at the Munhak Park Tae-Hwan Aquatics Center, wearing Singapore red and a confident smile, as he struggled to adjust the medal to make it sit as it should around his neck.
Joseph Schooling had just won gold in the men's 100m butterfly at the Incheon Asian Games, touching the wall in 51.76 seconds, ahead of China's Li Zhuhao (51.91) and Japan's Hirofumi Ikebata (52.08).
In one swoop, the 19-year-old rewrote two marks: His win was Singapore's first Asiad gold in men's swimming since Ang Peng Siong's 100m freestyle gold at the 1982 New Delhi Games; and his time, an Asian Games record.
But this win is probably bigger than winning gold, more important than having his name next to the record, and certainly not simply about stepping onto the same plane as Ang.
Watching the Singapore flag rise, with tears welling in his eyes and pride swelling up among his family and teammates standing across him, this was about the youngster getting his first taste of the big time and writing a new chapter of Singapore swimming - in high definition.
This above all, was about belief.
Every athlete needs that goal, that win, that breakout moment, to tell himself, more than anyone else, that, yes, he can mix it up with the best of them.
A 16-year-old Wayne Rooney had that glorious goal against Arsenal in 2002, Rafael Nadal beat a then-untouchable Roger Federer twice in 2006.
This was Schooling spreading his wings.
He finished behind Chad le Clos to bag a silver in the 100m butterfly at this year's Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Singapore swimmer to win on that stage.
That made him the favourite here, and the teenager, who is making his Asian Games debut, has coped with the pressure spectacularly.
"I was tightening up at the end, but if someone wanted to run me down, they would have to die trying. I believed that I could win," he said, after his win last night.
His coach Sergio Lopez said the difference, in the end, was in his head.
"The Commonwealth Games was a big growing point for him internally, to believe," said Lopez.
"It's not that he doesn't understand, but when you're 15, 16, 17, it's hard to accept (that you can beat the best)."
"You should have seen his eyes before the race," said Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) secretary general Oon Jin Teik, who was at the pool.
"There was no chance for his competitors."
And Schooling's fire is just growing more intense.
"He's also getting more comfortable racing at this higher level. All these are good progress indicators towards the 2016 Rio Olympics," said Joscelin Yeo, SSA vice-president, and in her pomp, Singapore's swim queen.
Schooling now knows he can play at the top table, and he didn't flinch when a journalist asked about Ang and the last time a Singapore man won an Asiad gold in the pool.
"It's always good breaking records and surpassing milestones," said Schooling.
"That's what I think about every day in training - achieving something special."
His belief is already infectious.
"Joseph could take us to the holy grail," said ex-national swimmer David Lim, of Singapore's dream of an Olympic swimming medal among the men.
It is Schooling's dream, too, although now he knows it is no longer just a dream.
Two hours after he touched the wall, he strolled out of the aquatic centre, still smiling.
When The New Paper asked if he believed he could beat the best swimmers in the world, he didn't break stride, didn't need to think.
All he needed was one word.
Schooling has spread his wings, and today he will fly again, in the 50m butterfly.
He will get one more shot at making the medal sit more comfortably around his neck.
"You should have seen his eyes before the race. There was no chance for his competitors."
— SSA secretary general Oon Jin Teik
"I was tightening up at the end, but if someone wanted to run me down, they would have to die trying. I believed that I could win."
— Joseph Schooling on his win
"His fighting spirit to win against a very strong field does Singapore proud... the combination of his determination, family and national support only proves that the sky and beyond is our limit."
— SSA president Lee Kok Choy
"Joseph could take us to the holy grail."
— Former national swimmer David Lim
Schooling's roll of honour
SEA GAMES 2011
- 50m butterfly (24.06 GR)
- 200m butterfly (1:56.67 GR)
- 200m IM (2:04.85)
- 100m butterfly (53.18)
SEA GAMES 2013
- 100m butterfly (52.67 GR)
- 200m butterfly (1:59.46)
- 200m IM (2:00.82 GR)
- 4X100m freestyle relay (3:21.74 GR)
- 4X200m freestyle relay (7:26.67 GR)
- 4X100m medley relay* (3:43.62) - awarded after initial gold medallists Indonesia saw a swimmer disqualified for a positive dope test.
COMMONWEALTH GAMES 2014
- 100m butterfly (51.69)
1 JOINT ASIAN RECORD
- 50m butterfly (23.43 AR)
ASIAN GAMES 2014
- 100m butterfly (51.76 GR)
- 200m butterfly (1:57.54)