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Ivan Lim
Saturday, Sep 27, 2014

Sports

Asian Games: He believes he can fly

The New Paper | Ivan Lim | Saturday, Sep 27, 2014

Singapore's Joseph Schooling wins Singapore's first gold medal in the 17th Asian Games Incheon 2014, Men's 100m butterfly event held at the Munhak Park Tae-Hwan Aquatics Center in Incheon, South Korea, on 24 Sep 2014.

INCHEON - He stood on the podium at the Munhak Park Tae-Hwan Aquatics Center, wearing Singapore red and a confident smile, as he struggled to adjust the medal to make it sit as it should around his neck.

Joesph Schooling had just won gold in the men's 100m butterfly at the Incheon Asian Games, touching the wall in 51.76 seconds, ahead of China's Li Zhuhao (51.91) and Japan's Hirofumi Ikebata (52.08).

In one swoop, the 19-year-old rewrote two marks: His win was Singapore's first Asiad gold in men's swimming since Ang Peng Siong's 100m freestyle gold at the 1982 New Delhi Games; and his time, an Asian Games record.

But this win is probably bigger than winning gold, more important than having his name next to the record, and certainly not simply about stepping onto the same plane as Ang.

Watching the Singapore flag rise, with tears welling in his eyes and pride swelling up among his family and teammates standing across him, this was about the youngster getting his first taste of the big time and writing a new chapter of Singapore swimming - in high definition.

Belief

This above all, was about belief.

Every athlete needs that goal, that win, that breakout moment, to tell himself, more than anyone else, that, yes, he can mix it up with the best of them.

A 16-year-old Wayne Rooney had that glorious goal against Arsenal in 2002, Rafael Nadal beat a then-untouchable Roger Federer twice in 2006.

This was Schooling spreading his wings.

He finished behind Chad le Clos to bag a silver in the 100m butterfly at this year's Commonwealth Games, becoming the first Singapore swimmer to win on that stage.

That made him the favourite here, and the teenager, who is making his Asian Games debut, has coped with the pressure spectacularly.

"I was tightening up at the end, but if someone wanted to run me down, they would have to die trying. I believed that I could win," he said, after his win last night.

His coach Sergio Lopez said the difference, in the end, was in his head.

"The Commonwealth Games was a big growing point for him internally, to believe," said Lopez.

"It's not that he doesn't understand, but when you're 15, 16, 17, it's hard to accept (that you can beat the best)."

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