Singapore’s Olympic Champion Falters. He Too Talked About Prioritising Mental Health.

Joseph Schooling, who won gold in Rio and beat his idol Michael Phelps, fails to make semis for his pet event.

Jul 29 2021, 11:32am

Singapore’s first Olympic gold medalist, Joseph Schooling, failed to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics semifinals of the 100-meter butterfly – the event for which he owns the Olympic record and which he won in the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. 

The early exit was a surprising descent for the city-state’s golden boy, who defeated world swimming champion Michael Phelps, also his childhood hero, in the last Olympic games clocking in a global record of 50.39 seconds. The 26-year-old’s time of 53.12 at the Tokyo Aquatic Center on Thursday evening put him last in his heat, and was not enough to make it to the semifinals of the competition. Only the top 16 advance to the semifinals. He finished 44th.

Caeleb Dressel of the United States, who has won two gold medals so far and holds the world record for the event at 49.50, topped the preliminaries after finishing at 50.39, matching Schooling’s Olympic record. 

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Schooling was not available for comment before he took to the pool, according to a Singapore-based representative, but he previously told VICE World News about the challenges he faced when competing in a silent arena. “I wouldn’t say it puts me at a disadvantage, it’s something that I have to adapt to,” Schooling said. 

“I’m the kind of guy that likes to get up on a big stage in front of a crowd. It helps me put myself in the mode that I need to where I thrive. I feed off the crowd, I feed off the energy.” 

In a separate interview with VICE World News ahead of World Mental Health day, Schooling also spoke openly about the mental health pressures of swimming at such a high level. He talked about struggles with harsh criticism, public scrutiny, and even his own expectations for success.

Used to positive coverage, Schooling saw the media ridicule him for his weight during the 2019 Southeast Asia games.

The comments bothered him but the episode proved to be important and a source of motivation.

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"Even I have days when I don't want to do things," Schooling admitted. "But having a strong mindset and sense of purpose propels me to get out of those bad days. Being in my position, I also had to learn that I needed to accept that things, good or bad, were always going to be said. I listen a lot to my coach Sergio Lopez, who taught me very early on to turn the negative into positive."

He also admitted that he too was affected by the global pandemic but that he had been coping.

“I tried to see the positive in the whole situation. The delay of the Olympic Games meant having a whole extra year to get physically and mentally stronger,” he said.

“I want to win more than ever but at the same time, it's also important to strike a balance, letting go of what I can and cannot control - that takes the extra stress and pressure off my shoulders.”

“I want to win more than ever but at the same time, it's also important to strike a balance, letting go of what I can and cannot control - that takes the extra stress and pressure off my shoulders.”

Schooling talked about the importance of mental health and how a healthy, strong mind played a vital role in his preparations for the Olympics.

"Society has become more aware and people are paying more attention to mental health. It affects your outlook and has a huge impact on your life," Schooling said.

"As long as I give myself the best opportunity, I am happy with that, win or lose. And I think that happiness is the most important thing."

Joseph Schooling competes at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Photo: Oli SCARFF / AFP

Mental health has become a common topic in Tokyo 2020, predominantly after star gymnast Simone Biles pulled out off some events she was expecting to dominate, in order to prioritise her own mental health. She too has spoken of the pressures of elite Olympic competition. Another favorite, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, was eliminated early in straight sets on Tuesday. Osaka has also been vocal about her mental health, pushing back on pressures placed on athletes.

On Thursday, as Schooling took to the water, Singaporeans waited with bated breath. After his swim, immediate reactions online were largely supportive despite his failure to advance.

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“Joseph must have been facing tremendous pressure,” wrote one Twitter user. Another said: “He remains our country’s pride and joy and many expected the best from him. I don’t think we should be upset about his results, instead be encouraging and don’t bring him down.” 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.
An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.
An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

Earlier this week, Schooling made his Tokyo Olympic debut by competing in the 100-meter freestyle heats. He failed to qualify for that event as well, at which he finished 6th overall in Rio.

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Tagged:

mental health, Singapore, 2020 olympics, worldnews

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