By Peter Rutherford
GWANGJU, South Korea (Reuters) – Much has changed for Joseph Schooling since the 2016 Rio Games, where he beat American great Michael Phelps in the 100 meters butterfly final to become Singapore’s first Olympic gold medalist.
Returning to the city-state from his Texas base earlier this year, the 24-year-old has swapped his carefree college days for living back at home with his parents, a huge transition that he says he is still trying to adjust to.
On Friday at the world championships in Gwangju, the extent of Schooling’s slide down the butterfly pecking order was only too apparent. Finishing equal 24th fastest, Schooling clocked 52.93 to miss the semi-finals of his pet event.
His time was 2.54 seconds slower than in Rio, where he stunned the world and looked like he had the makings of a dominant butterfly champion.
“This was a huge reality check of what I need to do moving forward,” he said.
“It’s been a big transition for me, moving back to Singapore. The last four months I’ve been put through a lot of things I’ve never been put through before. But it’s just a transition period and it’s a learning curve.”
With the Tokyo Olympics just a year away, Schooling must hope his learning curve starts to flatten out soon.
Phelps has long since retired but the emergence of American Caeleb Dressel and Hungary’s Kristof Milak has ensured that competition is no less fierce.
Dressel swam 50.28 to top the heats, the seventh fastest time ever. Milak, who shattered Phelps’ 200 record on Wednesday, was also a second and a half quicker than Schooling in the 100 heats.
“We have some positives to take out of this. Obviously very disappointed with the time but come back next year, a new summer and I know what I need to do going back home,” said Schooling, who also failed to make it out of the 50 heats in Gwangju.
“The effort was there for sure, but the time in that field just wasn’t.”
While the move back to Singapore has not been seamless, Schooling felt it was time to make a change after spending five years at university in Austin.
“Felt like I was going through the motions on a daily basis, I needed a new sensory shock,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of negatives, a few positives, but we’re not going to dwell on the negatives. We’re heading into Tokyo, which is the big goal next year.”
As well as adapting to coaching and training environment changes, Schooling said a lifestyle change was also taking some getting used to.
“College kid living by himself, going back to living with his parents,” he said with a wry smile.
“It’s awesome to be with mum and dad.”
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)