Schooling triumphs at SEA Games as tragedy strikes
June 07 2015 09:02 PM

Singapore’s Joseph Schooling celebrates after winning the 100m freestyle swimming final at the Southeast Asian Games in Singapore yesterday. (Reuters)


Olympic swimming hopeful Joseph Schooling sent records tumbling as he grabbed two SEA Games golds yesterday but the action was overshadowed by an earthquake tragedy which plunged Singapore into mourning.
Schooling showed why he’s considered a medal prospect at next year’s Olympics when he swam a Games record 100m freestyle of 48.58sec, and then led the way as Singapore lowered the event’s 4x200m mark.
His time was the 15th best in the world this year and would have earned him a place in the semi-finals at both the last Olympics and last world championships. His lead-off time in the 200m was also impressive, 1:47.79, again good enough for the semis at the last big global meets.
But freestyle is not Schooling’s best stroke. He focuses his attention on butterfly. He won a silver medal in the 100m butterfly at last year’s Commonwealth Games behind South Africa’s Olympic champion Chad le Clos.
He became the first Singaporean man in 32 years to win a gold medal in swimming at the Asian Games with victory in the 100m butterfly at Incheon. As the biggest fish in a small pond, Schooling is already a major sporting celebrity in Singapore because of his feats in the pool.
With Singapore hosting the SEA Games, his popularity is soaring to new heights every time he dives in the pool—something he is not used to because he has spent the last seven years living and training in the United States, where he has a much lower profile.
For Schooling’s Spanish coach Sergio Lopez, the SEA Games is an important part of the learning process, a chance to perform in his homeland while getting a taste for the high expectations being placed on him.
It capped another strong day for the hosts as they finished the second full day at the 11-nation, 36-sport competition top of the medals table on 26 golds, five clear of Vietnam.
But it was also a day of grief for the tiny city-state after news that at least eight Singaporeans, including six schoolchildren, died in Friday’s earthquake on Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia.
Southeast Asian (SEA) Games venues will hold a minute’s silence and flags on government buildings will fly at half-mast today, which has been declared a day of national remembrance.
“It’s a tragedy, it’s very sad to see those kind of things happen,” Schooling said.  “They’re going to be in the back of my mind and tomorrow I’m going to swim for all those eight people that died, along with the Malaysians also.”
Singapore was also jolted by news that sepaktakraw player Muhammad Azreen Sairudin was seriously injured in a motorbike crash which killed his brother, who was riding pillion.
Today, Schooling will swim the 50m freestyle and the 200m butterfly as he pursues a sweep of nine gold medals as part of his preparations for the July-August world championships.
His wins took the focus off Vietnam’s “Iron Girl” Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, who dominated the women’s 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley to reach four gold medals—all in Games record time.  The Philippines won the rugby sevens, beating Malaysia 24-7 in the final, and Singapore edged Malaysia 46-43 to win their first SEA Games netball gold.
Elsewhere Singapore’s Guillaume Soh won a rain-soaked men’s marathon in 2hr 34min 56sec, just 13 seconds ahead of Thailand’s Boonthung Srisung after a sprint finish.
Thai runner Natthaya Thanaronnawat won the women’s race by a more comfortable margin in 3:03:25, crossing 74 seconds before Mary Joy Tabal of the Philippines. With more than a quarter of the 402 gold medals decided, Singapore remain on top with their 26 -- although Vietnam (21) and Thailand (20) are close behind.

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