March 2, 2023
SINGAPORE – For the first time since his 2011 debut, Joseph Schooling will not represent Singapore at the biennial SEA Games.
The Republic’s only Olympic champion had qualified for the men’s 100m butterfly and was eligible for the men’s 4x100m medley team.
But he was missing from the Singapore Swimming Association’s list, released on Wednesday, of 22 athletes bound for Phnom Penh.
The Games will be held from May 5 to 17.
Schooling, 27, said: “After careful consideration with my team, I have decided to pull out of the SEA Games. This was not an easy decision, but I am currently not at the level at which I hold myself to perform.
“Ultimately, my country comes first before individual accolades.
“I have decided to give my spot to teammates who have been getting themselves ready and considered for selection while I cheer from home and focus on my Navy duties.”
He enlisted in January 2022 and is a naval supply assistant.
The Hanoi SEA Games in May 2022 was his last meet. In his absence, Quah Zheng Wen and Teong Tzen Wei will race in the 100m fly in Cambodia.
National swimming head coach Gary Tan said: “He has been a mainstay of the national team for quite some time and I know that Joe believes as well that there are capable swimmers in the team who can step up to the challenge.
“The team will miss his presence but we will keep moving forward.”
Schooling’s participation at the Sept 23-Oct 8 Hangzhou Asian Games is also not confirmed, although he has qualified for the 50m, 100m fly and 100m freestyle plus two relays. The Asiad was postponed from 2022 due to China’s Covid-19 restrictions.
His withdrawal from the SEA Games – he also skipped the 2022 Commonwealth Games despite qualifying for it – again raises the retirement question after a glittering career.
Besides that historic victory at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he has won three Asian Games golds, a Commonwealth Games silver, and 29 titles at the SEA Games.
In an interview with Yahoo last April, he said: “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.
“Right now the question is, ‘Okay, do I still want to do Paris (Olympics)? 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.”
After clinching two golds in the 100m fly and medley relay – his lowest haul since 2011 – in Hanoi, Schooling had called for a “national dialogue” on national service, highlighting the need to manage the expectations of athletes who are undergoing NS.
However, he was then embroiled in a drug controversy that same year, in which he and fellow swimmers Teong and Amanda Lim admitted to consuming cannabis.
The trio’s support was suspended by Sport Singapore and they were banned from national team training for a month after an internal review.
Schooling, Teong and Lim were also fined $10,000, $3,200 and $2,800 respectively by the Singapore National Olympic Council for breaching its code of conduct.
Schooling has not returned to national team training as he is in NS, with the Ministry of Defence noting previously that, “given his abuse of disruption privileges”, he would no longer be eligible for leave or disruption to train or compete while in NS.
Despite his absence, Singapore will head to the Cambodian capital confident of retaining its status as the region’s top swimming nation after winning 21 golds, 11 silvers and 12 bronzes in Hanoi.
The contingent include the in-form Teong, who became South-east Asia’s fastest man after he clocked 21.93sec in the 50m free in Hanoi.
He also bagged a Commonwealth Games silver in the 50m fly at Birmingham 2022.
Another standout swimmer is Gan Ching Hwee, who swept the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m titles in the women’s free in Hanoi.
The only SEA Games rookie in the squad is Nicholas Mahabir, 17, and owner of the 100m breaststroke national record.
His personal best of 1min 0.37sec is faster than Vietnamese Pham Thanh Bao’s SEA Games mark of 1:01.17 set in Hanoi.
Tan said: “This team has a good mix of youth and experience and we are confident of a strong showing in Cambodia.
“It will be a busy year, with the SEA Games in May, the World Championships in July and the Asian Games in September.
“But the swimmers have prepared well and are looking forward to priming themselves for the upcoming meets.”
Schooling’s SEA Games golds
2011 Palembang: 2 golds (both individual events)
2013 Naypyidaw: 6 (3 individual, 3 relay events)
2015 Singapore: 9 (6, 3)
2017 Kuala Lumpur: 6 (3, 3)
2019 Manila: 4 (1, 3)
2022 Hanoi: 2 (1, 1)
Singapore’s swim team in Cambodia
Ardi Zulhilmi Azman (Aquarian Aquatic School), Ashley Lim, Letitia Sim, Darren Chua, Glen Lim, Jonathan Tan, Nicholas Mahabir, Teong Tzen Wei, Zachary Tan (Aquatech Swimming Club), Maximillian Ang (Aquatic Masters Swim Club), Bonnie Yeo, Chan Zi Yi, Christie Chue, Nur Marina Chan, Faith Khoo, Ong Jung Yi, Mikkel Lee (Chinese Swimming Club), Gan Ching Hwee (Singapore Swimming Club), Amanda Lim, Quah Jing Wen, Quah Ting Wen, Quah Zheng Wen (Swimfast Aquatic Club)