Michael Phelps was denied a fifth gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. And by whom? Someone who brought his country its first Olympic gold, someone who has considered Phelps his idol since he was a child, someone who wants to be nothing short of the phenomenon that Phelps is, someone named Joseph Schooling.
On Friday, August 12, 21-year-old Joseph Schooling won the first-ever gold medal for Singapore at the Olympic Games when he finished as first place in the men’s 100m butterfly division of the swimming event at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Schooling, who became the first ever Southeast Asian male to win gold in swimming, clocked in at an Olympic Record time of 50.39 seconds, and in the process defeated USA’s Michael Phelps, who finished tied with two others (Chad le Clos of South Africa and Laszlo Cseh from Hungary) at 51.14 for second place.
Phelps, 31, was seeking his fourth gold medal in Rio and 23rd overall, but was halted by one of the young stars in swimming today.
This is the same Phelps whose race replays Schooling once watched endlessly, counting every stroke and underwater kick he made after executing a turn.
It just so happens that 8 years ago, a 13-year-old Schooling actually met Phelps and was able to take a photo with him.
“As a kid I wanted to be like him,” said Schooling, who had got a photograph clicked with Phelps before the American’s eight-gold medal winning performance at the 2008 Olympics. “It’s crazy to think of what happens in eight years,” Schooling said, adding, “A lot of this is because of Michael. He’s the reason I wanted to be a better swimmer.”
In 2011, Schooling beat Phelps’ age-group (15-16 years) time over the 100 yards butterfly (short course). Beating markers laid down by his idol had long been an obsession, he said. “It’s been a target of mine and I’m really happy to do that. It is a huge boost.
“Hopefully, I can get more of his records.”
The next year, they raced alongside each other in the United States in what Schooling said was “a tick off on my bucket list”. That was followed by a handshake.
Then at the London Olympics that year, Phelps comforted Schooling after their 200m butterfly heats.
Less than 10 minutes before the race, Schooling’s equipment was deemed to not fit Olympic regulations, and the then 17-year-old clocked a poor timing.
Schooling said: “I was walking behind Phelps after my race when he looked at me and asked, ‘what’s wrong?’
“I told him what happened and he hugged me and said, ‘you’re only so young, you still have a long way to go. It’s a learning experience so keep your head high and just keep moving on’.”
You would forgive Schooling for envying his idol’s success, but the Singaporean told an ESPN documentary in 2012 that he was keen to chart his own career.
“I don’t think I’ve ever daydreamed about Michael Phelps’ career – but as far as his accomplishments go, I think everyone would love to have 14 gold medals at the Olympics, and I think over 20 golds at the world championships,” he said.
“I just want to make my own career for myself. Michael Phelps may be my idol, but I just want to make my own career.”
Swimming great Michael Phelps says it is up to Joseph Schooling on where he wants to take it. “As big as he wants to dream, as hard as he wants to work, to do whatever, is in his head,” he adds
On Friday, Phelps was seen giving Schooling a congratulatory tap after they faced off, side by side, in the 100m butterfly heats, which Schooling won.
Who would have thought that the young kid in the image would one day out-swim him in the biggest sports stage of the world?
At such a young age for a rising athlete, who knows what else Schooling will be able to accomplish?