JAKARTA: Singapore’s Olympic swimming champ Joseph Schooling is getting ready for what could just be the biggest challenge of his life: going home.
The 23-year-old left his southeast Asian homeland in 2009 for the United States to pursue his goal of becoming an Olympic gold medallist.
He achieved his dream in spectacular fashion at Rio two years ago when he beat American legend Michael Phelps to win the 100 metres butterfly gold, but now it’s almost time for him to return to Singapore.
This December Schooling completes his economics degree at the University of Texas before heading back to where it all began — knowing nothing will ever be the same again.
As the only Singaporean to ever win an Olympic gold medal, Schooling is a megastar in the tiny island-state.
A marketing dream, he is set up for life with sponsors forming a queue to sign him but he also suffers the price of fame.
Schooling may be a big shark in world swimming but when he returns he will be living his life in a goldfish bowl where just going out to dinner becomes complicated.
“It takes some getting used to but at the end of the day if you focus on what you’re doing and you don’t care about outside distractions then it’s doable,” he told AFP at the Asian Games.
“It’s an adjustment but I like being in that position and I don’t see it as a burden at all.”
When Schooling visited home immediately after his breakthrough win in Rio, thousands of people turned out to cheer him as he was paraded around the streets in an open-top bus.
Wherever he goes, he gets mobbed by fans asking for autographs and photographs.
“It’s everywhere but it shows that they support you and they’re excited to see you and so you can’t complain,” said Schooling.
“You can never brush aside your fans, you’ve always got to reciprocate so I’m completely fine with it.”
Schooling has expressed his desire to keep racing until the 2024 Olympics in Paris and is looking forward to working with Singapore’s new high-performance coaching team.
Singapore has been investing heavily in its swim programme and hired some of the best coaches and technical directors in the world, including Stephan Widmer, Gary Tan and Sonya Porter.
“I’m going to come back in early February,” said Schooling.
“I’m comfortable with the coaches over there. The last few months have been good and so I’d be comfortable coming back for good being under Sonya, Stefan and Gary would be awesome — a good combo.”