Schooling to continue swimming to 2020
Former great Ang hails Mindef move to allow deferment for Schooling
Instead of rifles, revolvers or fire hoses, Olympic champion Joseph Schooling's world will revolve around swim caps, googles and swimming tights for the next four years.
Within hours of touching down in Singapore yesterday morning from the Rio Olympics, the 21-year-old Olympic men's 100m fly gold medallist was granted a deferment from full-time National Service until after the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
It is Schooling's second deferment - his first postponement from 2013 to end-August this year allowed him to study and train full-time at the University of Texas in the United States.
"Right now, I am just happy that I got the green light and I will talk about it tomorrow," said the bleary-eyed and jet-lagged swimmer at Parliament House yesterday afternoon, after he was formally feted in Parliament for his Olympic achievements.
In a statement yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen explained that Schooling had "satisfied all prescribed conditions" for his 2013 deferment.
Athletes had to be assessed as potential medallists at international competitions such as the Olympics, bring pride to the country, and show why deferment was necessary in achieving their goals.
Dr Ng said: "From 2013 to the 2016 Olympics, Mr Schooling has been exemplary in fulfilling the raison d'etre for his deferment - he trained hard and met all performance milestones on his way to Olympic glory.
"Today, the Armed Forces Council approved Mr Joseph Schooling's request for extension of his deferment and for him to be enlisted for NS after the 2020 Olympic Games."
Schooling's father Colin told Today newspaper: "This will be a perfect situation for him to prepare for Tokyo, hopefully it can realise a better harvest of medals in Tokyo.
"The key thing I want people to understand and know is that we're not running away from NS".
After the disappointment of London 2012, where the swimmer was affected by a last-minute change of his swim cap and goggles, Schooling took Rio 2016 by storm and won the men's 100m fly in a new Olympic record of 50.39sec.
He thrashed more experienced campaigners such as American Michael Phelps, South African Chad le Clos, and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh - who all finished joint-second - in the process.
The deferment will allow Schooling to continue his training under former Team USA Olympic coach Eddie Reese at Texas for the next two years, with his post-graduation training plans towards Tokyo 2020 yet to be revealed.
Former Olympian and local swimming legend Ang Peng Siong knows what it's like to be in Schooling's shoes, having himself been deferred from 1980 to 1986.
"It (the deferment) allowed me to fulfil my sports scholarship in the US, and it allowed me to achieve goals like getting an Asian Games gold medal, being ranked No. 1 in the world (in the men's 50m free), and finishing fourth at the 1986 World Championships," the 53-year-old founder of APS Swim School told The New Paper yesterday.
"I came back and did NS, but asked for deferment for the Seoul Olympics (in 1988), and I think I got something like six months to prepare."
"I lost momentum, and it was heartbreaking, because that's when they had 50m freestyle for the first time," added Ang, who finished third in the 'B' final of that event in Seoul.
Meanwhile, Schooling received a 30-second long standing ovation from a packed Parliament yesterday, after the politicians moved a motion to formally recognise the swimmer's Olympic achievement.
In a speech, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, president of the Singapore National Olympic Council, said that Schooling's achievement marks a milestone in Singapore's sporting history, and also a new beginning.
He said: "I believe Joseph's win can inspire young Singaporeans to chase the rainbow and go after their dreams, even in areas outside of sports."
Tan, also the Minister for Social and Family Development, also paid tribute to Schooling's proud parents, Colin and May, who accompanied their son in Parliament.
Many MPs and Ministers interacted with the Olympic champion during a recess, and posted pictures with Schooling on social media.
Among them was PM Lee, who captioned the wefie with Schooling as such: "Usually people ask me for selfies, but today I felt so proud to ask Joseph for one! :)"
- Additional reporting by Shamir Osman and Linette Heng
What others say
"Deferment in the sport of swimming is an important development as part of the overall high performance support system... And you have seen how Joseph (Schooling) has led the way, and (Quah) Zheng Wen as well.
We recognise the importance of National Service and we also recognise the need to be able to enable our top performers with the necessary to reach that potential."
- Sport Singapore CEO Lim Teck Yin
"From a sports science perspective, the age of 18 to 23 is absolutely vital - that's when athletes get a decent strength and conditioning base and learn to understand what training and competing are all about.
They're starting to get the right psychology, and are getting to that point where they take ownership and start making decisions for themselves, moving from pre-elite to elite.
And when you lose those years, you're not going to make up for it again."
- Former national men's hockey coach Solomon Casoojee
"The biggest support that Joseph has had so far was deferment from NS, because most athletes start to really peak between the ages of 18 and 21.
I went to NS when I was 19. When I was still competing at the junior level at age 18, I was at the Asian level and qualifying for the world junior championships, and all my peers were at about the same standard.
Within two or three years, they improved by at least 40 or 50 per cent in terms of performance."
- National sprinter Calvin Kang