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Catch me if you can: Schooling

Schooling showing his new tattoo of the Olympic rings at a press conference, where he talked about his swiming future and his hope that his gold medal win will cultivate a stronger sporting culture in Singapore.


JOSEPH Schooling is not going to be the next Michael Phelps.

Despite the comparisons with the world's greatest swimmer, Singapore's golden boy declared that he wants to make a mark for himself.

"It feels great to be compared with someone like Michael, he's the best Olympian of all time. But in the long run, I want to make my own name."

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Sporting a new tattoo of the Olympic rings on his arm, Mr Schooling spoke to the media during a whirlwind four-day trip back in Singapore before he heads back to Austin, Texas on Friday morning.

Despite his jetlag, he has already ticked off multiple items on his packed schedule, from obliging the requests of his adoring fans for more than an hour the moment he landed at Changi Airport, to being formally congratulated in Parliament where he was given a standing ovation.

It's not every day that the Prime Minister asks to take a selfie with you, and that was exactly what happened on Monday.

Mr Schooling, speaking with a slight American accent, says that he was "super honoured" and "privileged" to be recognised for his efforts.

Referring to his time in Parliament and his meeting with the Ministers, he added: "It was a very cool experience meeting all those guys. Very down-to-earth."

It was also on Monday morning that he received news that his deferment for National Service enlistment will be extended until after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Mr Schooling says that he is very grateful for the deferment, which "lifts a huge weight off" his shoulders.

"It was a tough road, but I'm very glad that the Government realises what I'm trying to do for my country and realises how much hard work I have put into it. This can only give me a boost in my push to 2020 now."

He adds that he hopes it opens up doors for budding athletes to get more leeway to train and bring honour and glory to Singapore.

Despite the rush of corporations and brands that have been quick to capitalise on his win by buying up advertisements and offering promotions, Mr Schooling says that endorsement deals are something he would think about later.

For now, he is still soaking up the moment and letting it all sink in that he has made history.

While his momentous swim last Saturday seemed almost effortless, he shares that more than a decade of training and sacrifices led up to that moment.

Mr Schooling was only six or seven when he decided that he wanted to be an Olympic champion. "That has always been my goal, to be the best in the world. I trained every day trying to put myself in that position."

Hearing the National Anthem play at the Olympics ceremony was a "super emotional" moment for him, knowing that he has accomplished what he had wanted to do since he was a little kid.

But now that he's at the pinnacle of his sport, he admits it is a tricky place to be. After all, it is easier to catch up to someone in front of you, rather than to stay on top.

But Mr Schooling is unfazed with the competition that will surely come.

Speaking with his trademark confidence, he says: "If I had to pick, I'd rather be on top and hold the fort. I like having people chase me. That's why I like being the fastest qualifier… I try to send a statement: come and catch me. I'd rather set the tone and have everyone follow suit than the other way round."

He adds that it's all about confidence during competitions. It might sound cocky, but he says it's the kind of mindset one has to have when you race.

"You want to be the best, you got to believe you're the best. It's the first step to achieving your goals."

Despite reaching the pinnacle of his field, Mr Schooling is not ready to hang up his goggles.

Looking forward, his next goal is to set a world record for the 100m butterfly. He also has his sights set on the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. Not only is he intending to defend his title in the 100m butterfly, he is seeking to get ready in the 200m butterfly event.

Mr Schooling also believes he has a good future in the 100m freestyle event which he also swam in the Rio Olympics where he made it to the top 16. He is also thinking of venturing into new events such as the 200m individual medley or even the 200m freestyle.

Finally, he is optimistic that his win will help cultivate a stronger sporting culture in the country and inspire the public to take a stronger interest in sports. "Hopefully, this [his achievement] puts Singapore on other people's maps. I just hope what I did would inspire other people to take up sports."

A victory parade in an open-top bus is also planned on Thursday to celebrate Mr Schooling's historic feat. While subject to changes, the route is scheduled to start at Old Airport Road at 9.30am and then make its way to Marine Parade, then to Comcentre Singtel, passing by Orchard Road and ending at Raffles City.