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Father’s love propels an Olympic champion

SINGAPORE – It was 7.30am on Saturday morning (Aug 13), and the clock was ticking down to that historic moment delivered by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling.

Colin Schooling (3rd from right) sits with family and friends ready to watch the 100m butterfly final on Saturday (Aug 13). Photo: Adelene Wong

Colin Schooling (3rd from right) sits with family and friends ready to watch the 100m butterfly final on Saturday (Aug 13). Photo: Adelene Wong

SINGAPORE – It was 7.30am on Saturday morning (Aug 13), and the clock was ticking down to that historic moment delivered by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling.

Huddled together with about 15 people in a house in Jalan Chengam, a 68-year-old businessman ate local delicacies like “chye tow kueh” and “chwee kueh”. Except that this was not any Singaporean man waiting for Joseph’s 100m butterfly final. It was Colin Schooling, Joseph’s father and biggest fan.

If Singaporeans experienced an emotional roller-coaster ride of nervous anticipation and then exhilaration yesterday, Colin probably felt it a million times more.

The moment came and went by in an Olympic record time of 50.39secs, and Colin – who was quiet and “numb” during the race, only inching closer to the television screen after the crucial 50m turn – wept at the end.

The tears were a result of “pent-up” energy after all the years that he and his wife, May, spent in helping to produce Singapore’s newly-minted Olympic champion.

It was a father’s joy, and raw emotions on display at the home of his son’s best friend Teo Zhen Ren.

The Teos threw a breakfast party for about 15 of the Schoolings’ loved ones. Local reporters who have been following Joseph’s journey throughout the years to this special moment were also invited.

“What made me cry is I managed to fulfill his dream (of winning an Olympic gold medal), and I’m sure he also has many other dreams and ambitions for Singapore. So this is just a whole pent-up thing that I’ve been going through this year, and I don’t know how many years before,” said Colin.

“I do cry, and if I cry in front of you guys, it is because all of you here are my friends and I have nothing to be ashamed about.

“But my love for my son is something I cannot describe to you all.”

NO ORDINARY PARENTS

The Schoolings are also no ordinary swim parents.

Colin and May have assembled an extensive swim library at home, which contains countless files including hand-written notes of their son’s swims, broken down into split times and stroke rates.

They took up technical courses, attended swim clinics, and spoke to many experts from various fields just so that they could give their son “constructive advice” and be more involved in his swimming career.

“But Joseph is very driven and focused in what he wants to achieve, and we just help him reinforce that,” said Colin, who is known to be a strict father. “We want to give him all the help and love that he needs.”

When asked if tough love is also required to raise an Olympic champion, Colin joked: “Yes, sometimes. That’s why I never call him. If he wants to talk to me, he calls me.”

With an Olympic-sized job of providing love, support, attention and resources to groom Singapore’s sporting hero, the Schoolings also have their own support system.

The Teos and the Schoolings have been family friends for about 15 years. They became acquainted as a result of Zhen Ren and Joseph’s swimming lessons at the Singapore Island Country Club which they started taking at around the age of “six or seven”.

“I think my best friend here, (Zhen Ren’s father) Jimmy (Teo), will be able to tell you... that I’ve always confided in him my secret thoughts. I could only share them with him without any shame,” said Colin.

“Those moments when I was down – he knows.”

COACHES

It’s not all about the Schoolings though. Joseph’s coaches Sergio Lopez and Eddie Reese both had a huge part to play in the young man’s success.

“I think a lot of congratulations should go to the coaches Sergio Lopez and coach Eddie Reese, who have been with him for many years,” Colin said.

“They really prepared him well. Eddie and Sergio – I believe they are like messengers from heaven, to bring this gift (of nurturing an Olympian champion like Joseph) to us, to this universe, to the world.

“And now, the world will know who is Joseph Schooling, where is Singapore, and they will not be confused too if Singapore is near China, or even in China.”

Zhen Ren - also a Singapore swimmer who is now based in the United States’ Santa Monica College where he studies and trains – speaks to Joseph before and after most of his major races. This included Saturday morning before Joseph took to the final of the Olympic 100m butterfly.

“We were just talking about his race in the morning, and he said he was going to smash them (Joseph’s competitors) and he did,” said Zhen Ren.

“Right after the World Championships last year, he knew he could do it (win Olympic gold). He got bronze (100m fly) at the world champs, but he just tapered one month before that, and he was telling me he could go way faster.

“Joseph said he was going to win it (Olympics). But everyone was asking me, and asking him if he could even medal.

“Deep down in our hearts, and in our private conversations, it was always about him going to get gold – all the time.”

With Joseph surely to gain world-wide fame and recognition more prominently the world over now after his Olympic feat, Zhen Ren will be part of the support system that will help his best friend remain grounded and focused on achieving much more - with the next Olympics coming up in four years’ time in Tokyo.

“This is just the beginning. I’m sure he is going to break world records in the future,” said the former national swimmer.

“He has always been saying that times are not important, as long as you finish first in the race.

“I’m pretty sure now (that he has achieved an Olympic gold), he is going to start looking at the world record – whether he tells anyone or not, he is going to be a world beater for sure.

“In Tokyo, everyone is going to be even more excited, and we are going to talk about a couple of medals, not just one gold medal.

“I just hope that he is going to keep training, keep working hard.

“If he doesn’t stop, nothing is going to stop him.”

With strong parental support clearing all obstacles toward success, Joseph’s future can only be brighter than the gold around his neck.

And Colin hopes his son’s feat will inspire others.

“For youngsters, I would urge them to follow in Joseph’s motto: Dare to dream,” he said. “For parents, whatever your children do, just have confidence in them, and just love them.”

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