This year, I will prove I am no fluke: Joseph Schooling
SINGAPORE — Joseph Schooling has declared that his aim this year is to prove to his doubters that his historic gold-medal victory at last August’s Rio Olympics was no flash in the pan, and that he has what it takes to stay at the top for a long time to come.
In an interview with TODAY from Houston, Texas, the Singapore swimmer revealed that what is driving him on this year to break recently retired American swimming legend Michael Phelps’ 100m butterfly world record of 49.82sec at the Fina World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in July, is to prove that his own 100m Olympic record-breaking win in Rio, is just a sign of more things to come from him.
The University of Texas (UOT) undergraduate had a rare weekend off from his strict training regimen, attending the UFC Fight Night 104’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event in Houston on Saturday (Feb 4), and took in the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday (Feb 5).
When asked about his mission this year, Schooling said: “Keep my status at the top, (and) let people know it’s not a one-time thing.
“The Olympics ... some people might say (my win) was a fluke, he’s only done that once.
“My mission, my goal is to prove that it’s not a fluke, (that) I am the best and I am going to keep being the best.”
Indeed, it looks like Schooling is returning to the form that enabled him to win five individual and relay gold medals at last year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships — just in time for this year’s championships in March.
Last week, he clocked 19.68sec in the butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay at the University of Texas’ annual Class Relay meet.
According to swimswam.com, while Schooling’s time was slower than the 19.36 he had clocked in the 200-yard medley relay final at last year’s NCAA Championships, it still beat the 19.72 he had clocked in the preliminary rounds, and was also faster than any other split at the NCAAs from last season.
“After a rocky start to the season, Schooling’s performance on Thursday says he’s rounding into form just in time for championship season to start,” said the authoritative world swimming news website.
“It feels good obviously, but the most important thing is helping the team win a national championship. That’s all I’m focused on,” said Schooling who has been undergoing an intensive training regimen with his teammates under UOT head coach Eddie Reese since December. Reese is also the former head coach of the US squad for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I came back (from Singapore) in December and started working hard, watched what I ate, no more going out, time to focus on the championship season.
“We always start off with a good base. That means we do more yardage, so for example, we do 7,000, 7,500 yards in the practice, and right now we’re coming down for conference, so we’re doing around 3,000 to 4,000 yards each practice.
"But yes, the first part of the season he (Reese) destroyed us. It wasn’t very fun, but he did.
“I think this is the fittest I’ve ever been, so I’m in a good spot.”
Still, it is not all work and no play for Schooling — and watching MMA events is one way in which the business undergraduate unwinds after school and training.
“My friends and I all love fighting,” said Schooling who was granted backstage access on Saturday to meet some of the UFC fighters.
“It’s an interesting sport. I used to do a little bit of boxing in high school and it was one of the hardest things I had to do. So I can’t imagine guys duking it out for three, four, five minute-rounds for a Championship fight. That’s insane.
“And you never know who’s going to win. Obviously there are some favourites, but at the end of the day it’s anyone’s game. Whoever is mentally and physically ready. It’s kind of like swimming, so it’s always interesting to see who can bring their A game when it really matters.”
In fact, one of Schooling’s favourite athletes is UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor, MMA’s biggest pay-per-view draw who has 21 wins from 24 fights, including 18 by knockout.
According to Schooling, he draws inspiration from the outspoken Irish fighter’s ambitious ways.
“He doesn’t care what people say, he goes out there and he takes out people. He tries to fight people two weight classes above him,” he said.
“I like his ambition — even though it doesn’t work out, he still tries. That’s the most important thing. You try, you work hard, and you fight for what you want.
“So I am going to try to be the best in the world.
“I’m going to fight for that world record, and I’m going to stay on top.”