Thousands at Singapore swimmer Schooling’s parade

schoolingSINGAPORE: Thousands turned out Thursday at a victory parade for Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling, who clinched the city-state’s first Olympic gold medal with a stunning victory over his boyhood idol Michael Phelps.

The 21-year-old waved to crowds from an open-top double-decker bus while sporting a new tattoo of the Olympic rings on his right arm.

Schooling set an Olympic record of 50.39sec in the men’s 100m butterfly final in Rio last Friday after edging out Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history.

The parade started near Schooling’s housing estate in the island’s eastern suburbs, where hundreds gathered, many of them dressed in Singapore’s national colours of red and white.

“Thank you for coming out here and waiting so long,” he told the crowd.

Cheering fans, many jostling to take pictures of the gold medallist, lined the streets waving mini flags before the parade ended at a downtown shopping mall where thousands had waited from as early as 8:00am.

The swimmer has been mobbed since returning to Singapore on Monday, when hundreds gathered to meet him at Changi Airport.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong invited Schooling and his parents to parliament where he was formally congratulated.

He has also won a four-year exemption from compulsory military service so he can prepare for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

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.

In an interview with AFP on Tuesday, Schooling said he is mulling a professional career but would prefer to be based in the United States.