By now, a phrase that has been oft bantered around for the past two days is “Did you watch the Rio Olympics? I can’t believe Joseph Schooling won gold!” For about a minute, a nation watched riveted, as one of Singapore’s sons swam his way to victory, smashing an Olympic record and leaving the world’s best in his wake. For many Singaporeans, this moment represented Singapore’s coming of age as a nation. Singapore had previously tasted some measure of Olympic success with a silver medal in table tennis in 2008 and 2 bronze medals in 2012. Yet, the success of these medals in table tennis was bogged down by the controversy over the authenticity of our sportsmen who were not born locally. Thus, the story of Joseph Schooling resonates more strongly with Singaporeans as it illustrates how a typical boy from Bedok managed to go against the flow and achieve greatness.
All the more miraculous in Schooling’s victory is that Singapore does not have a strong sporting culture. The traditional notion of education being the key to success is still first and foremost in the minds of many parents. Sports is seen as something extracurricular, something that is good to excel in but ultimately not necessary to future success. There are so many things that could derail a serious sporting career – lack of funding, injury, no potential future – that could very well result in nothing to show for the effort. Many children engage in sports but few ever make it to the top and none as spectacularly as Joseph Schooling.
Yet, behind that crucial 50.39 seconds of glory are countless sacrifices made by the man himself, his family and friends in his quest for the elusive gold. The world does not see him as a young boy, struggling for 7 long years to make his dreams. When he was only 14, Schooling took the leap to move across the world so that he could focus more intensely on his swimming. His parents were the ones to recognize the potential in their son, took a risk and kept faith in him. The Schoolings themselves have spent more than S$1.3million to support their son’s Olympic dreams – sending him overseas to train, the cost of sporting gear and equipment, competition fees and the list goes on. Aside from that, there was the need to juggle family commitments with the whole family being only being together for 3 weeks in the year. This is on top of the numerous sacrifices that every parent makes for their child. We have to applaud the Schooling family for their time, energy, money, effort and for simply keeping faith in a young man they believed in.
The success of Joseph Schooling has given us some hope – that it is possible for young Singaporeans to achieve and to achieve big. His triumph has elevated Singapore to new heights in the sporting arena as the tiny nation who produced a world champion. More importantly perhaps, it has paved the way for many young aspiring athletes to look up to their sporting heroes and believe that they too, can make their dreams a reality.