SINGAPORE — After five outings and 31 medals - 27 of them golds - Joseph Schooling could make next month's SEA Games his final one.
Singapore's first Olympic gold-medallist gave the strongest hint yet that he is ready to move on from his extraordinary swimming career after this cycle of major Games, during an interview with Yahoo News Singapore on Saturday (23 April).
While he will definitely take part in next month's SEA Games in Hanoi as well as the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou, he is planning to take stock of his performances - and the training regimen amid his current national service (NS) needed to reach the lofty Olympic standards - before going for the Paris Summer Games in 2024.
"I'm going to be 27 this year, and there are a lot of things outside the pool that I'll want to move on to after I'm done swimming," he told Yahoo News Singapore.
"Right now the question is, 'Okay, do I still want to do Paris? Or do I stop and reassess where I want to go after the Asian Games?'
"Also, how do I balance what I need to do NS-wise and getting the training I need? Because if this schedule persists, I don't think I can make it to 2024 in Paris."
Two-gold SEA Games debut in Palembang in 2011
Schooling made his SEA Games debut in 2011 in Palembang, Indonesia, where he clinched two golds, a silver and a bronze as an up-and-coming 16-year-old whom many tipped to have a successful swimming career.
He would go on to wildly exceed those early predictions, as he stormed to a monumental gold medal in the men's 100m butterfly event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, sending an entire nation into joyous celebration at its first-ever Olympic gold.
He would also dominate the swimming competitions at the SEA Games, most notably at the 2015 edition in Singapore, where he swept to a staggering nine gold medals in nine events at the OCBC Aquatic Centre. He also won six golds in each of the 2013 and 2017 editions, as well as four more in 2019.
The past two years were difficult, however, as Schooling struggled for form in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, which was postponed from 2020 to 2021. He would eventually stumble in defending his Olympic gold last August, exiting in the heats with a timing that was nearly three seconds slower than his gold-winning time in 2016.
Nevertheless, he has shown encouraging improvement in February's Singapore National Age-Group Major Games Qualifier event. Not only did he comfortably qualify for both the SEA Games and Asian Games, but he also slashed his 100m fly timing to 52.09 seconds, down from his 53.12sec showing at the Tokyo Olympics.
While it is still a sizeable distance from his Olympic gold-winning time of 50.39sec, Schooling believes he is in a good mental state to achieve winning performances in Hanoi.
"My team and I have worked ourselves into a spot where I can say I should be winning my events. The key now is to enjoy what I am working for," he said.
"I've always enjoyed representing Singapore at the SEA Games, and this SEA Games being possibly my last will make it even more special. I won't take anything for granted, and I'm going to appreciate whatever is going to happen."
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