Schooling's at fight weight and off to work in Jakarta
Team Singapore will for the first time enter the Asian Games with an Olympic champion, and the swimmer is 'dialled in' after the return of his Rio stroke
Joseph Schooling loves his food, and ably demonstrated it when he sank his teeth into yet another piece of the fatty meat with that sinful crust of skin.
It was a break from his usual routine when we had lunch recently, falling under the 10 in the 90 per cent to 10 per cent eating ritual he has employed building towards the Asian Games, which officially opens on Saturday in Indonesia.
The swimmer says he is ready and confident.
"You gotta be. I hate losing," said Schooling.
After 17 editions of the event, Team Singapore will for the first time enter this year's Asian Games with an Olympic champion in their ranks.
Four years after his debut at the Games in Incheon, two years after handing "Michael Phelps a spanking (as one American journalist remarked to me)" when he stormed to gold in the men's 100m butterfly at the Rio Olympics, much has changed for Schooling.
He is 23, and much more experienced as a professional athlete, but he says the excitement of competition never gets old.
"I'm excited about the Asian Games. I'm excited about swimming," he said.
"It's not just swimming. Sport in general is about goals. It is goal orientated, performance orientated.
"I'm excited to be at fighting weight. I'm excited to feel my stroke come back to the way it should be, like before Rio.
"Am I excited about swimming thousands and thousands of metres? No.
"But I'm excited about the process leading up to the Asian Games and the perspective and the position I'm putting myself in now that I'm feeling this way again."
Four years ago in South Korea, Schooling won gold in the 100m butterfly, silver in the 50m butterfly and bronze in the 200m butterfly.
At this year's Asian Games, he is pencilled in for the 100m fly, 50m fly, 100m freestyle, and the 4x100m freestyle relay and 4x100m individual medley, and he is looking forward to showing off his talent for the first time in Indonesia.
It is almost as if he breathes positivity when you talk to him, he was the same way in Rio two years ago.
His confidence never wavered in the mixed zone when he talked after each of his swims, as if he could already picture what was going to happen in the 100m fly.
He was hardly intimidated standing next to Phelps for the race, he touched the wall first at the 50m mark and when so many around the world expected the greatest of all time to reel him in, the Singaporean went even faster in the home stretch in one of the great swim sprints of all time, leaving the American, Hungary's Laszlo Cseh and Chad le Clos of South Africa to share second spot in a historic first of three silver medallists for a single event.
Of course, the world record is important to me. Being world record-holder is sick. You want to solidify your position. But what's more important is getting better. If I get better, I get my shot at breaking the world record.Joseph Schooling, on cracking Michael Phelps' world record of 49.82sec in the 100m butterfly
Schooling does not remember every detail of the race, when he said: "It's all kind of blurred… but I remember the gist… I also remember Michael saying post-race that Joe can be as good as he wants to be.
"Michael believes it. More importantly, I believe it. It's evident in even little things, like what I've given up.
"Before, I was drinking soda every day. I love my fizzy drinks, but I've given it up.
"I love McDonald's. You know how hard it is not to have a McSpicy, because the US doesn't have it. I love it. I love chai tow kway. I love fried stuff.
"I just don't have that any more, because I know if I want to get to the next level, if I want to be better, you can't be doing the same things that you've been doing.
"I've finally come to terms with that. I'm happy. I'm happy drinking water because I know how it can affect your body composition and your performance.
"I'm actually proud of it, proud that I've been doing it consistently for a long time. Consistency is not my thing because I get bored.
"I believe it's also a maturity thing. I've had my fun after Rio, I had a ton of fun and, now, it's like, all right, what's next?
"Happiness is key, right? I'm happy where I'm at."
Schooling has one more semester at the University of Texas and will graduate with an economics degree.
He says he will return here after that and make Singapore his base.
"I've spoken to Gary (Tan, National Training Centre head coach) and Sonya (Porter, technical director), and there is a good possibility I'll come back and train here. They are excited, I am excited," he revealed.
"Gary, Sonya and Stephan (Widmer, national head coach and performance director) have been doing a fantastic job, I trust them 100 per cent.
"Eddie (Reese, University of Texas) was fantastic, but I've got to change it up.
"Here I know everything's tailored to me, I've got everything I need to get to the next level. That played a huge role in me deciding to come back."
His coaches have clearly been a big part of his preparation for the Asian Games.
He's lost around seven kilogrammes with that 90 per cent and 10 per cent formula and he's been working on his hips to go faster.
"The key phrase in swimming is stability through strength," he said.
"I've leaned out. I don't look like a bodybuilder any more.
"I've learnt a lot about my weaknesses rather than my strengths over the last couple of months. I've realised my coordination is shit. I've realised I haven't been using my hips.
"Swimming is a hip-propelled sport, people say legs, but it all starts from the hip down. I've worked on it and my stroke has never felt better."
These days under profession he writes swimmer and with his professional status and Olympic achievement have come a slew of endorsement deals. There have been some here who have criticised Schooling, saying he is distracted, and that he should concentrate on swimming.
Perhaps it is because we have never before had someone like him from our shores that we are so unfamiliar with what is usual practice for world-class athletes.
It is the way for vaunted athletes in professional sport all over the world, and Schooling is once again showing Singapore how it is done and, hopefully, more will walk a similar path.
They must first share his desire, though, because he is not satisfied and wants to go faster.
"I've got one of my goals. What's left… staying on top, always pushing yourself," he said.
"You always want to better yourself and that's why you practise. That's why I practise 6am to 10am, go back to practise 4.30pm to 7pm, not because I enjoy playing around in the water, or grinding out the yards.
"Who enjoys putting themselves through that… No one.
"But I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, that feeling is addictive. Being sore, pushing yourself through a hard set and coming out after, all red and huffing and puffing, that's an addictive feeling. That's amazing.
"I love that. I love the idea that I have more to give. I have a lot more to give. I'm not at my peak yet. Seeing how far I can go, how good I can become, that's the exciting part. Not because I have to get up at 5am in the morning. I hate that."
Schooling is in a good place.
He's dialled in, as the Americans would say, focused and ready for his next challenge.
"I know my goals. I know what I want. I'm enjoying being back in shape. I'm enjoying being back at home with my parents. I'm enjoying experiencing new feels and new scenarios.
"Of course, sometimes when you are tired the repetitiveness gets to you, but not for long. After a while, you snap out of it.
"I'm happy. Happy to be home. Happy to be here."
It is the worst of times for Schooling when he grinds it out in training, but the best of times may well lie ahead.
There is his personal best of 50.39sec to beat in his pet event the 100m fly and Phelps' world record of 49.82 to crack. The world championships loom next year and all the time the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is drawing closer.
But, right now, there is only one thing on his mind.
He said: "I am not looking at 2020, I'm not thinking of 2020 right now. There is only one thing I am focused on right now. The Asian Games is all I'm thinking of right now."
10 questions with Joseph Schooling
10 questions with Joe...
- If you weren't a world-leading pro swimmer, what would you be?
- Favourite restaurant in Florida,Texas and Singapore?
Carrabas Italian (Florida), Rudy's BBQ (Texas), Roland's Seafood (Singapore).
- Favourite band?
I don't have one.
- Ed Sheeran or The Weeknd?
- If you were James Bond, who would you want to be your leading lady/love interest?
- What's your favourite song right now?
I don't have a favourite song. My playlist changes frequently.
- Steak or ribs? Prawn mee or chicken rice?
Steak and Prawn Mee.
- If it's a family outing and mum wants to go to a concert but dad wants a movie, and you have to make the choice, concert or movie?
- Which was the last movie where you cried?
I don't cry at movies…!
- The worst line you have given a girl?
You must be tired from running through my mind all night.