5 things you need to know about our first ever Olympic gold medallist

5 things you need to know about our first ever Olympic gold medallist

Homegrown hero

Text: Renée Batchelor

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'll know that Singapore's own Joseph Schooling won the nation's first ever Olympic gold and broke the Olympic record for the 100m butterfly. Here's how he did it

Young Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling, 21, made history this morning by winning the men's 100m butterfly event in Rio de Janeiro. He's not only the first ever Singaporean to win an Olympic gold, he beat a formidable trio of swimmers, the US' Michael Phelps, South Africa's Chad le Clos and Hungary's László Cseh to an Olympic record finish, with a stunning time of 50.39 seconds. Schooling was nearly a full second ahead of these experienced Olympians, forcing Phelps, le Clos and Cseh into a joint silver. He is definitely proof that coming from a little red dot should be no obstacle to achieving greatness. And for the Pokémon Go obsessed folk out there, stop looking at your iPhones for a minute, and look at what real achievement is right here.

Schooling places first leaving Cseh, le Clos and Phelps a joint second
He's making history with each swim
The last Singaporean male to make a splash in swimming at the Olympics was Ang Peng Siong, who won a 'B' Consolation Final in the 100m freestyle in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. With this win, Schooling has proved that a Singapore swimmer can compete on the world stage. His timings for his pet event, the 100m butterfly, prior to this, had already been record-breaking. His semi-final swim yesterday morning in the men's Olympic semi-final clocked a timing of 50.83 seconds — his then personal best and also an Asian and national record. It was also the fastest recorded time in 2016 by any swimmer in the world in the 100m butterfly — that is before he bettered that with his Olympic-breaking timing in this final. Besides this gold, his other recent achievements was a bronze medal at the FINA World Championships in 2015, another first for Singapore.

In the pool after qualifying for the 100m finals with the best timing
He's proven to have the guts and determination to succeed from a young age 
The story goes that a six-year old Schooling first heard about his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg, being the first person to represent Singapore in the 1948 London Olympics in the high jump, and the flame was stoked. Schooling told his father that he wanted to be an Olympian — a feat he achieved when he represented Singapore in the 2012 London Games. Moving away from his parents at the young age of 14, he trained and studied at the renowned Bolles school in Florida, and is currently an undergraduate at the University of Texas where he is a member of the highly-regarded swimming team, the Texas Longhorns. Among the sacrifices he has made? Not watching Game of Thrones despite being pressurised to. He told The Straits Times, "I know it will take hours and weeks, and I don't have a month to sit down every night to watch it." Now that's commitment. 

He's raced against his personal idol, and 23-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps... and won
It's likely by now that you've seen the photo of a young Joseph Schooling posing with Phelps in 2008, as a cherubic tween in Singapore, standing more than two heads shorter than the towering 1.93m tall American. But what you may not know is that besides racing against (and beating) Phelps at this Olympic final, in the Olympics quarter-final on the 10 August, and in the Longhorns Elite Invite in Texas in June — Schooling has quietly been chasing down some of Phelp's other youth records. In 2011, he managed to beat Phelp's age group (15-16 years) record for the 100m butterfly. Today, he denied Phelps his 23rd gold medal. How's that for (metaphorically) killing your idols? Touchingly, Phelps reportedly comforted Schooling after his 2012 Olympics 200m butterfly heats, when the latter did not perform up to expectation, hugging him and telling him he was still young and had a long way to go. After the medal ceremony, the 31-year old was seen chatting with Schooling, though we'll have to wait to hear from the latter what his words of advice were. Phelps later said, "A three-way tie is pretty wild. It's faster than I went, I think, four years ago to win. Joe [Schooling] is tough. He had a great year last year and has had a really great last two years so hats off to him. He swam a great race."

Getting a pat of acknowledgment from swimming legend Michael Phelps after their quarter-final race
He's a true blue son of Singapore
Despite some grumblings from netizens and online trolls that Schooling was possibly yet another foreign talent — not a completely unexpected assumption, due to his surname and the fact that several sportsmen representing Singapore at an elite level originally hailed from other countries — Schooling is a third generation Singaporean Eurasian, born and bred on this tiny isle. He attended Anglo-Chinese School (Independant), likes carrot cake (the local kind) and we're pretty sure he must have suffered through second language like the rest of us.
A spectacular start and finish marked his stunning race
He will only get better with age
At 21, Schooling is not considered to have reached his physical peak as a swimmer yet. By comparison, Phelps won his record-breaking eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Games, at the age of 23. And for someone who bore the weight of an entire nation's hopes and expectations on his capable shoulders, he's proven that he has the experience, maturity and mental strength needed to compete at an elite level. With this dream accomplished, here's looking forward to an even greater result at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for Team Singapore and Team Schooling. And to the little aspiring Olympians out there both in Singapore and Asia, know that there is no limit to what you can achieve.

Watch replays of his historic 100m butterfly finals on Toggle. For full details, visit