SINGAPORE – President Halimah Yacob and other public figures paid tribute to the efforts and sacrifice of swimmer Joseph Schooling and his fellow national athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics and urged Singaporeans to support them in both good times as well as bad ones.
Madam Halimah wrote on Facebook on Friday (July 30): “I feel sad looking at how unkind we can be towards each other.
“One moment, we carry people to the highest pedestal with our words, yet the next moment we thrash them to the ground just because they fail to live up to our expectations.
“Yet, many a time, we would ask for dispensation for ourselves if we did not achieve something which others expect of us. We argue that we are only human but we don’t apply the same yardstick to others.”
Schooling, 26, entered the Games as the 100m butterfly defending champion. But he did not advance to Friday’s semi-finals after he clocked 53.12 seconds to finish last in his heats on Thursday and placed 44th out of the field of 55.
That, wrote Madam Halimah, “was the start of negative, hurtful comments against him”. She added: “We forgot that he had helped us to win an Olympic gold medal and brought glory to our own sports history.
“We have to appreciate the tremendous sacrifices and stress that our athletes have to undergo. And the Olympics is not a walk in the park. They are competing against some of the world’s best athletes but they still tried their best.
“The least that we can do is to appreciate their effort and continue to encourage and support them. I’m glad that there are still many Singaporeans who do just that, and I thank them.
“We talk incessantly about building a gracious, compassionate and caring society because we believe that a society thrives not just on economic growth alone. It’s easy to articulate these values, but a lot more difficult to practise it. We will be tested ever so often, like in this instance.
“So let’s be kind. Support our athletes wholeheartedly. They are doing their best.”
Shortly after Schooling’s race, compatriot Yu Mengyu, the world No. 47, fell at the final hurdle and lost in the table tennis women’s singles bronze medal play-off to Japan’s second-ranked Mima Ito.
Schooling and Yu, 31, represented Singapore’s best chances of claiming a medal at the Games in Japan. The Republic has won Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016. Before that, the only medal was weightlifter Tan Howe Liang’s silver at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
On Thursday evening, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who is in Japan to attend the Olympics, also appealed to the public not to be fickle in their support. He wrote on Facebook: ” We cannot be fairweather about this, enjoying the glory when they do well, but criticising our athletes when they don’t.
“Remember how it was on 12 August 2016? How Jo lifted all of us with his phenomenal win? Most of us will remember the day, where exactly we were and what we were doing – so momentous was the occasion, and how proud we were as a nation.
“If we are to see this again, then we cannot support our athletes only when they do well. We must continue to support and cheer them on, get behind them, not only when they are up, but especially when they are down.”
Schooling and teammate Quah Zheng Wen, who clocked 52.39sec to finish 34th overall in the 100m fly heats, have ended their Tokyo 2020 campaign.
Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) president and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also in the Japanese capital, echoed this sentiment.
He wrote on Facebook: “I know that for many, this will be disappointing. Especially as Jo is the defending champion and the record holder. Trust me, the disappointment is felt most by our athletes who expect more of themselves every day and work at trying to improve all the time.
“Majority of the athletes competing at the Olympic Games will not stand on the podium. The Olympic creed reminds us, ‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.’
“When the tough gets going, they remind us to keep going and continue to find the best version of ourselves.”
Schooling’s swim coach Sergio Lopez also paid an emotional tribute to his charge after Thursday’s heats, posting a picture on Instagram of them sharing a warm embrace at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Lopez, 51, who claimed a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke event at the 1988 Seoul Games, wrote: “Over 10 years ago we crossed paths in this beautiful life for something more than just being perfect.
“Never forget that perfection lies in the imperfection of life.
“Thank you for this amazing and interesting journey. Let’s keep moving forward.”
The Spaniard previously coached Schooling when he attended The Bolles School in Florida from 2010 to 2014, and as head coach of the Singapore national team from 2015 to after the Rio Games.
Schooling, who turned professional in March 2018, returned in 2019 to train with national head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer and national training centre head coach Gary Tan.
In a bid to regain his form after a string of poor results, Schooling returned to the United States in 2020 to reunite with and train under Lopez.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.