Joseph Schooling Retires – Singapore Fails To Protect Our Own Talents

Just today, Singapore’s only Olympic Gold Medalist Joseph Schooling announced his retirement in a Facebook post. Joseph Schooling reached the top of the world at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 100m butterfly event, beating his childhood hero Michael Phelps. His victory brought many Singaporeans from all walks of life together.

Following his history-making Olympic win in 2016, Joseph Schooling continued to make waves in the pool. He dominated the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, snagging six gold medals across various individual and relay events. At the 2017 World Championships, he secured a bronze medal in the prestigious 100m butterfly. That year, he also cemented his dominance in Asia by setting a new record in the 50m butterfly at the Asian Games.

The 2018 Asian Games saw Schooling defend his 100m butterfly title, setting a new Asian Games record in the process, and achieve another gold in the 50m butterfly. Schooling also earned bronze medals as part of both the 4x100m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay teams.

Was it NS that led to this?

Joseph Schooling’s performance in the sport dipped after he began his National Service (NS) in Singapore on January 3, 2022. After a controversy regarding cannabis use, Schooling was restricted from training disruptions during NS. This meant less dedicated swimming time compared to his pre-NS routine, which could have impacted his performance.

In 2023, Schooling withdrew from participating in the 32nd SEA Games held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He explained that, “I am currently not at the level at which I hold myself to perform. Ultimately, my country comes first before individual accolades.”

The biggest failure on Singapore’s part is protecting our own talents

Besides failing to groom our own talents, we also fail to protect them. Joseph Schooling’s parents had to fork out their own money and put in their time and effort to send their child to the USA to train. Even after winning the Olympic Gold, Singapore was only here for the party and fanfare.

We didn’t have a system in place to help our winner as much as possible. We are inflexible about rules like National Service, and we also fail to provide enough support to make sure that our winner’s mental health is taken care of.

Hopefully Joseph Schooling’s short-lived stint at the top of the world will be a good enough lesson to our business-minded leaders in white to re-look at the way in which they have been treating local talents.