Joseph Schooling: From boy to champion

1997: Born to Colin Schooling and May Yim on June 16, 1995. Begins training with Vincent Poon at two. Coach drops him in water to see if he panics. He doesn’t.

2001: At six he wants to be an Olympic champion. “It might have been fluff when I first said it… but the idea was always in my mind.”

2008: Swimming legend Michael Phelps visits Singapore for a pre-Olympics training camp. “I really wanted a picture… I was so shell-shocked, I couldn’t really smile. I just opened my mouth.”

2009: Enrols in The Bolles School in Florida and trains with Spaniard Sergio Lopez, who won bronze at 1988 Seoul Olympics.

2012: At the London Olympics, an official tells him his goggles and cap are not approved. Panic sets in and he finishes last in his 200m butterfly heat. Phelps tells him to “keep your head high and just keep moving on”.

2013: Following an appeal from his parents, the Ministry of Defence grants him a four-year deferment from national service. He enrols in the University of Texas and works with coach Eddie Reese.

2014: Ends Singapore’s 24-year Asiad drought. He wins 200m butterfly bronze, 50m butterfly silver and 100m butterfly gold in a then-Games record of 51.76sec.

2015: First Singaporean to win a world championship medal with his 100m butterfly bronze. Wins nine golds, all in record times, at the SEA Games at home. A record for a male athlete.

2016: Wins Singapore’s first Olympic gold in Rio in a Games record time of 50.39sec, beating a field that includes Phelps. “I felt a sense of relief and joy… knowing I’ve accomplished what I wanted to as a little kid.” Gets second NS deferment for next Olympics.

2017: Wins 100m butterfly bronze behind American Caeleb Dressel and Hungarian Kristof Milak at the world championships.

2018: Retains Asian Games 100m butterfly crown in new Asiad record of 51.04sec. Also wins 50m butterfly gold and two relay bronzes. Graduates from University of Texas and launches his swim school Swim Schooling.

2019: Wins four events at the SEA Games but not the 50m butterfly and 100m freestyle. Named Sportsman of the Year for a fifth straight year, for a record sixth award overall.

2021: Finishes last in his men’s 100m butterfly heat at the Tokyo Olympics, and 44th out of 59 swimmers overall.

2022: Enlists for national service. Excluded from Singapore’s Asian Games team. Wins SEA Games golds in the 100m butterfly and men’s 4x100m medley relay in his last major Games. Confesses to consuming cannabis overseas.

2024: Completes full-time national service stint in February and announces his retirement on April 2.


Produced by:

  • Billy Ker
  • Chng Choon Hiong
  • David Lee
  • Lee Pei Jie

Published by SPH Media Limited, Co. Regn. No. 202120748H. Copyright © 2024 SPH Media Limited. All rights reserved.


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