Back in 2008, just before competing in the Beijing Olympics that made him an international superstar, American swimmer Michael Phelps posed with a 13-year-old fan in Singapore. His name was Joseph Schooling.
The meeting reportedly inspired the young Singaporean to move to the United States for extensive training.
Schooling’s dream of swimming in the same race as Michael first came true in 2012 when he was 17 years old and he qualified for the London Olympics, Straits Times reported. He referred to the experience as “a tick off on my bucket list.”
An unfortunate incident occurred however after he was told his goggles weren’t Olympic standard just before the race. After getting last minute replacements, he ended up not getting through to the semi-finals.
“I was walking behind Phelps after my race when he looked at me and asked, ‘What’s wrong?'” Schooling recounted.
“I told him what happened and he hugged me and said, ‘You’re only so young, you still have a long way to go. It’s a learning experience so keep your head high and just keep moving forward.'”
Four years later, the two would meet again, not as fan and idol but as competitors in the biggest sporting event there is.
Delivering a tremendous upset, Singaporean Joseph Schooling snatched a win for his home country by defeating the American swimming icon at the Rio Olympics on Friday.
The victory, captured in the 100-meter butterfly event, earned Singapore its first ever Olympic gold medal. Schooling also denied Phelps from his 14th individual Olympic title.
The near-perfect performance saw the 21-year-old Singaporean lead throughout the entire race with Phelps failing to catch up. Schooling finished the race in 50.39 seconds, setting a new record. Phelps, who had already racked up 22 gold medals, settled for his first silver in Rio, clocking 51.14 seconds.
The Asian champion splashed the water with his fist and screamed with happiness as Phelps came over to give his congratulatory pat on the back.
When asked what Phelps said to him after the race, Schooling said, “Good job, that was a great race,” He added: “I told him to go four more years and he said ‘No way’. Hopefully he changes his mind. I like racing him.”
“He’s been swimming great,” Phelps told a poolside NBC reporter of Schooling. “My hat’s definitely off to him.”
“If I cry in front of all of you all, it’s because I have nothing to be ashamed of,” Schooling’s father Colin told reporters after the historic win, “My love for my son is nothing I can describe to you all.”
“It is an incredible feat, to compete among the world’s best, stay focussed, and emerge victorious,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post.
In Singapore, celebrations flooded not only on social media but also in public housing estates, where most Singaporeans live. Many Singaporean supporters reportedly woke up early to watch the event live. Asian neighbors also poured in congratulatory praises for Schooling on social media.
Schooling’s win entitles him to receive 1 million Singaporean dollars, or about $743,000, from the government of Singapore for winning a gold medal.