Let Schooling continue chasing his rainbow
Olympic champ has already inspired Singaporeans, and is capable of achieving even more
History-making swimmer Joseph Schooling's achievements are as follows:
- 18 medals at the South-east Asia Games, 16 of them gold;
- A gold, a silver and a bronze at the Asian Games, with an Asian record to boot;
- A first-ever swimming medal, a silver, at the Commonwealth Games;
- A historic medal, a bronze, at the Fina World Championships;
- An unprecedented gold medal at the Olympics, won in a new Games record time.
With these achievements, he will be a shoo-in for Singapore's sporting Hall of Fame, and crowned Singapore's greatest-ever sportsman.
But, at 21, this is just the beginning and he deserves all the help he can get.
He is in good hands at the University of Texas, where his coach Eddie Reese has produced Olympic champions before Schooling, such as Aaron Peirsol and Brendan Hansen.
The legendary coach, who has 49 years of coaching experience in the US, told The New Paper two years ago that the Singaporean is "way more talented" than anyone else he has ever seen.
He had also said that his protege has it within him to do well in the 100m and 200m freestyle, as well as the 200m individual medley.
Already, Schooling owns the second-fastest time in Asia this year in the 100m free, behind just Asian champion Ning Zetao, when he clocked 48.27 in the heats in Rio.
WORLD RECORD NEXT
Of course, there's Michael Phelps' 100m fly world record of 49.82 to chase down as well, and he is in no better hands than Reese's to achieve that.
Former Olympian and respected local coach David Lim said: "Joe has got two more years at the University of Texas with Eddie Reese.
"He has groomed Olympic champions like Ian Crocker and Aaron Peirsol, so he is the expert and the coach who can take Joe to the next level."
Of course, there is the sensitive issue of National Service to consider, and Schooling's deferment, granted by Mindef in 2013, will end this month.
The Ministry has always maintained its stance for compulsory conscription for Singapore's defence needs, while allowing leeway for "world-class" individuals, as it did with Schooling and his teammate Quah Zheng Wen.
Therefore it was encouraging to note in a Straits Times report, where Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin says talks with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) about Schooling's long-term national service (NS) deferment will continue to take place.
Speaking to the media in Rio, he said: "It's important because for some sports, you begin to peak and these are important years.
"We've made the exception for Joseph and (Singapore swimmer Quah) Zheng Wen and made some adjustments, and this is something we will continue to go on discussing as more of our athletes begin to push the boundaries on the world stage."
While he acknowledged that Schooling's gold-medal feat demonstrated the young swimmer's potential, Mr Tan added: "I guess the key is how do you identify the potentials and make those exemptions?
"We will continue to discuss closely with Mindef and see how that space evolves. I wouldn't say that as a result of this, there's going to be a change, neither would I say that things will remain static.
"We do want our sportsmen to develop, but we do also recognise that there are responsibilities we need to balance as well, so let's see how that space evolves."
Studies, painstakingly compiled by Schooling's parents Colin and May, have shown though the dip in performance that a prolonged absence - even in the case of a three-month basic training - will bring in elite swimming.
The Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) is fully prepared to support Schooling, if he decides to apply for another deferment, a key endorsement in the entire process.
SSA secretary-general and former Olympian Oon Jin Teik said: "I think it's not just me hoping that Joseph will get another deferment, I think the whole of Singapore will ask for him to defer at the rate he's going."
Exemption from NS is an option floated about in the wake of Schooling's historic Olympic triumph.
In an online straw poll on 701 people by former journalist and media critic Cherian George on his website Air-Conditioned Nation, some 467 people - or 67 per cent of respondents - felt the swimmer should be exempted from NS, while 22 per cent felt he must come back to serve, but only when he's done with swimming.
George conceded that the survey was an "unscientific" one though, likely skewed in the euphoria of a historic Olympic victory.
But, from conversations with Schooling senior over the years, exemption has never been a consideration; Singaporean sons must serve, he had said.
At just 21, Schooling is already an eloquent and well-mannered ambassador of Singapore in the sporting arena, as one could tell from his press conference after winning the 100m fly.
And like our footballers did from the '70s to early '90s - he brought a nation to a standstill yesterday, as they cheered and willed him on in his pet event.
One of my schoolmates, who does not usually follow sports other than tennis, has been reminding us in our Whatsapp group chat to catch Schooling in action the past few days.
A Singaporean wrote on Facebook that his daughter was inspired to go swimming yesterday because of "Schooling kor kor".
Schooling, in his personal triumph, has inspired a nation, also sending a statement to talented young Singaporeans that it is worthwhile to take a splash in the pool.
The late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew famously said at a 1996 Foreign Correspondents Association dinner in Manila: "The sky has turned brighter...
"There is a glorious rainbow that beckons those with a spirit of adventure... To the young and not-too-old I say: Look at the horizon, find that rainbow, ride it."
Schooling has found his rainbow, and has now inspired his countrymen to find their own.
He must be allowed to keep riding that rainbow.