August winner: Joseph Schooling

Recognition follows Joseph Schooling's Rio success

Joseph Schooling's parents Colin and May receiving The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for August on their son's behalf on Thursday. The award was presented by Jennifer See, the general manager of F&N Foods Singapore (extreme left) and Lee Yul
Joseph Schooling's parents Colin and May receiving The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for August on their son's behalf on Thursday. The award was presented by Jennifer See, the general manager of F&N Foods Singapore (extreme left) and Lee Yulin, ST sports editor, (second from left).ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Strangers stop him on foreign soil, but swimmer's main focus now is on college examinations

Even Joseph Schooling gets it wrong - sometimes.

It is more than a month after his historic Olympic gold, and just as he insisted that there have not been any major changes in his life, he was stopped by a fan wanting a photograph with him.

And no, before you jump to the wrong conclusion, he was thousands of kilometres away from Singapore.

He was in the United States, on the University of Texas campus, and the fan made the request while the 21-year-old was speaking to The Straits Times on his mobile phone.

Later, he admitted sheepishly: "More people know you, but they're all really receptive and cool about it.

"They ask me if I'm that kid and we chat about it sometimes, but I won't bring it up."

DEALING WITH ADULATION

More people know you, but they're all really receptive and cool about it. They ask me if I'm that kid... but I won't bring it up.

JOSEPH SCHOOLING, on combining fame with life as an ordinary college student.

"It" refers to his momentous effort at the Rio Olympics, when he pipped Olympic legend Michael Phelps and reigning world champion Chad le Clos in the 100m butterfly final to become Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist.

His Rio feat made him an easy pick for The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for August.

The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year accolade, which was launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's isotonic drink 100Plus.

He was ST's Star of the Month for August last year too, and Athlete of the Year in 2014.

Despite all the accolades, what has kept Schooling grounded is the reminder of the long, arduous path that took him to the top of his sport.

It is a process that he describes as a "roller coaster" - one that involved, as he puts it, "messing up in London, doing well in Barcelona, Kazan and at the SEA Games last year".

Said Schooling: "Roller coaster meant hard times, ups and downs, but breaking through new barriers.

"It started from 2011, it was my first SEA Games and that's when all my summers started to become hectic."

His ability to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground stems from his upbringing, said his dad Colin, who accepted the Star of the Month award with his wife May on Joseph's behalf.

"From infancy till he left (for the Bolles School in 2009), we relied on our upbringing to make sure our advice lasts a lifetime," added the senior Schooling.

"These are life lessons that he has taken with him to adulthood, and I hope he maintains it."

Joseph is taking four classes this semester for his economics major, but while he is now recognised by strangers in Texas, he receives no special treatment from his professors.

He said: "Probably only one professor knows that I won or knows I'm in the class... I don't want to be treated differently; I'm just a normal kid."

Despite his insistence, his feats have sparked an outpouring of admiration for the swimmer, judging from the huge turnout at his victory parade in Singapore last month.

Said ST sports editor Lee Yulin: "Joseph's feat at the Olympics is a result of his daring to dream big, and his parents' courage and foresight in supporting that vision.

"It is the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice, both on his part and that of his parents.

"The huge turnouts at the airport when he returned home and during the celebratory parade are signs that his was truly a victory that united the nation."

But Joseph is not dwelling on the impact of his Olympic success, as he focuses on examinations.

He said: "Right now, class is stressing me out more (than swimming) because I have two tests this week. Other than that, school is all right. The workload is normal and I like my classes - they're interesting."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Recognition follows his Rio success'. Print Edition | Subscribe