Sin­ga­pore’s first gold comes home

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

SIN­GA­PORE swim­mer Joseph Schooling re­turned home to a rous­ing wel­come on Mon­day after win­ning the city-state’s first-ever Olympic gold medal with a stun­ning vic­tory over the leg­endary Michael Phelps.

The 21-year-old Asian cham­pion set a new Olympic record of 50.39sec in Rio on Au­gust 12 as he edged out his Amer­i­can idol Phelps, the most dec­o­rated Olympian in his­tory, in the men’s 100m but­ter­fly fi­nal.

“Joseph, I love you!” a fan screamed as oth­ers chanted “Schooling” and “Sin­ga­pore” when he emerged into the ar­rivals hall at Changi Air­port at 6:20am yes­ter­day wear­ing his gold medal and a red jacket.

Schooling im­me­di­ately hugged his wait­ing fa­ther Colin, 68, who was un­able to make the long jour­ney to Rio after fall­ing ill. They posed for a fam­ily pic­ture with his mother May, 61, who was his big­gest cheer­leader in Brazil.

“Thank you every­one for be­ing here so early in the morn­ing. This is not just for me, but for all of you,” Schooling said in a brief speech be­fore wad­ing into the crowd of some 500 peo­ple in­clud­ing an in­ter­na­tional me­dia con­tin­gent.

He was still sign­ing au­to­graphs more than an hour later.

The gov­ern­ment, in a widely ex­pected move, an­nounced that Schooling will not have to un­dergo manda­tory mil­i­tary train­ing un­til after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Sup­port­ers have been clam­our­ing for an ex­ten­sion of Schooling’s de­fer­ment from two years of mil­i­tary train­ing, a manda­tory re­quire­ment for all able-bod­ied Sin­ga­porean men when they turn 18.

De­fence Min­is­ter Ng Eng Hen said in a state­ment yes­ter­day the de­fer­ment had been ap­proved.

“To­day, the Armed Forces Coun­cil ap­proved Mr Joseph Schooling’s re­quest for ex­ten­sion of his de­fer­ment and for him to be en­listed for NS [Na­tional Ser­vice] after the 2020 Olympic Games,” Ng said.

“To­gether with all of Sin­ga­pore, MINDEF [Min­istry of De­fence] wishes Mr Schooling con­tin­ued suc­cess in the next Olympic Games.”

Schooling and his fam­ily were also been in­vited by Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong to at­tend a ses­sion of par­lia­ment later yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to hear trib­utes, and a vic­tory pa­rade is be­ing planned for this week.

At 21, Schooling’s best sport­ing years could still lie ahead. Phelps is 31 and has only just re­tired after tak­ing his record haul of Olympic medals to 28 in­clud­ing 23 golds in Rio.

Some waited from mid­night to catch a glimpse of Schooling, whose flight home landed at 5:35am. Many came bear­ing ban­ners, flags and home­made signs.

“This is a proud mo­ment for Sin­ga­pore and our group wanted to share in it since we’re the same age as the na­tion,” said Sylvia Chua, 51, who made a gi­ant mock gold medal of pa­per and card­board that said “Con­grat­u­la­tions Joseph”.

Philip­pines na­tional Em­my­lou Almeda, who had been wait­ing since mid­night, brought along a print­out of a pic­ture she took with Schooling last year.

“He re­ally showed the mean­ing of hard work, which I think is a re­ally great in­spi­ra­tion for my two sons,” she said.

Third-gen­er­a­tion Sin­ga­porean Schooling’s mixed Euro­pean and Asian her­itage has res­onated strongly in the im­mi­grant so­ci­ety of 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple, which had to rely on nat­u­ralised ath­letes for years to win medals at in­ter­na­tional events un­til Schooling emerged.

Chi­nese-born fe­male ta­ble ten­nis play­ers won a team sil­ver at the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics and an in­di­vid­ual bronze in Lon­don 2012.

Sin­ga­pore’s first Olympic medal was won by home­grown weightlifter Tan Howe Liang, who bagged a sil­ver in Rome in 1960. –

Photo: EPA

Gold medal­list Joseph Schooling (cen­tre) of Sin­ga­pore hugs his fa­ther Colin Schooling (left) in the ar­rival hall of Changi Air­port in Sin­ga­pore on Au­gust 15.

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