By Amlan Chakraborty
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Joseph Schooling did not claim to have swam a perfect race in winning Singapore’s first gold medal of the 18th Asian Games but he feels the victory is another stepping stone towards the defence of his 100m butterfly title at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Texas-based swimmer earned Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal when he won the event at the 2016 Rio Games but has since struggled with inconsistency, managing only a bronze at the world championships in Hungary last year.
Schooling said winning gold in Jakarta on Wednesday, in a Games record of 51.04, brought him “relief and joy” and hopefully signalled an end to his dip in form.
“I’ve been up and down over the last two years but it’s part of the cycle, right? You can’t always be in tip-top performance,” he said at the Gelora Bung Karno Aquatic Center late on Wednesday.
“What’s important is if you’re not feeling at your best, step up, grind it through and try to win the race. That’s what defines a champion.”
The 23-year-old, who will be going for a second gold after topping Thursday’s 50m butterfly heats (23.84), plans to swim in Europe before returning home for a World Cup leg in November ahead of next year’s world championships in South Korea.
“I’m heading in the right direction … I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable, so I envision the next two years getting better and better heading into Korea and Tokyo,” he added.
He was happy with his time in Jakarta, which was the fifth fastest of the year and bettered his gold-winning 51.76 at the 2014 Asian Games, but felt it was “just another stepping stone” towards his ultimate goal.
“You build on it each meet, each year and you finally get to the Olympics,” he said. “This is one of the building years to get to do what I want to do in Tokyo.
“Are things going according to plan? Yes, I’d say so. I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m definitely in a lot better shape than I was last year. Hopefully I can keep building on that.”
And if he needs motivation, Schooling says criticism helps.
“I think criticism is good,” he said.
“If everyone’s on your side, praising you, it might get to your head. But I think this is a great check and balance for me.
“(I’ve) always proven my critics wrong. It gives me more motivation to go to practice, to race harder, so I can prove people wrong.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)