We all know what happened in Tokyo on Thursday (Jul 29) when our reigning Olympic champion Joseph Schooling took part in the men’s 100m butterfly heats. Schooling clocked 53.12s – last in his heat – which was almost three seconds slower than his Olympic record of 50.39s. It was a commendable effort, but judging from social media, Singaporeans were divided over the result.
Here’s the bigger picture and what you need to know about Joseph.
The “state money” issue refuted by Joseph’s uncle
While his supporters and former athletes commended his efforts to qualify for the Olympics, keyboard warriors hurled all sorts of hurtful words. Perhaps the most common spiteful remark is this one: “So it’s ok to use state money but come in last in the heats as defending champion?”
Sure, as an Olympic champion, he receives a stipend of at least S$8,400 a month by virtue of being in the top band of SportSG’s spexScholarship programme, as noted in a TODAY commentary.
But for anyone who even thinks of using that as an argument, Joseph’s uncle (Max Le Blond) came forward with an open letter that detailed something everyone knows, but chose to ignore: that it was the Schoolings (parents May and Colin) who paid for Joseph’s travel, education, and training, not the state. Ironically, when Joseph started making his presence felt in the US swimming circuits at higher levels, his scholarship was paid for by the University of Texas – yep, the Americans.
In fact, it wasn’t until Joseph beat the GOAT of swimming – Michael Phelps himself – at the Olympics, that Singapore started to take notice. As Joseph’s uncle puts it: “What happened in Tokyo is a profound disappointment – and nobody is suffering that disappointment more terribly than Joe’s parents, and of course, Joseph.”
For anyone thinking about how gold medals are won, here’s a little reminder:
No matter what, all our Olympians are the best of us, which is why they’re in the Olympics in the first place. Let’s not become toxic like these Chinese nationalists.
Joseph’s granduncle was Singapore’s first Olympic athlete
Did you know that Singapore’s first-ever Olympian was actually Joseph Schooling’s granduncle? Lloyd Oscar Valberg (1922-1997) was a national high jumper who competed at the 1948 London Olympics, and he was the only Singapore athlete sent there.
Valberg was the chief fire officer with the Port of Singapore Authority who received the King’s Police & Fire Service Medal in 1951 for gallantry during a fire on a tanker. You can check out the refurbished 1938 Merryweather Pump Escape Fire Engine – Valberg was the last fire chief of – at Mapletree Business City.
Who knew that 68 years after Valberg’s Olympics debut, his grandnephew Joseph Schooling would win Gold for Singapore in the 100m butterfly at the 2016 Rio Olympics? Joseph broke multiple records at National, Southeast Asian, Asian and Olympic level with his winning time of 50.39 seconds.
Swimming isn’t the only thing he’s good at
Joseph was an economics major from the University of Texas at Austin, and he’s already paving the way for a future away from being a competing athlete.
He’s launched his own swim school, called Swim Schooling, back in 2018 catered to kids 3 to 11 years old. He’s also launched a fitness app, called Schooling Sport late last year, which provides customised workouts with interactive audio coaching, utilising a biofeedback training system.
Regardless of what Singapore’s 100-metre butterfly Olympic champion and two-time Asian Games winner decides, Joseph Schooling has already has written himself into the annals of Singapore’s history as one of its most successful athletes.
The NS deferment
Schooling has been on long-term NS deferment since 2014, and in the last 2 decades, only 2 other athletes – his fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen and sailor Maximilian Soh – have been granted long-term NS deferment. Clear expectations are laid out for a sportsmen in cases of deferment, including the standards required for their sport training.
Perhaps Joseph can be granted another year’s deferment for him to prepare for the 2022 World Championships and Asian Games, and if he performs well there, there may be another extension for the 2024 Paris Olympics. By then, he would’ve deferred NS for about 10 years.
Only Mindef can decide whether it should grant Joseph further deferment from NS and, if so, for how long. He’s indicated on several occasions that he’s ready to enlist if he’s not deferred.