SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s new swimming sensation Joseph Schooling signed off from the Southeast Asian Games on Thursday with a record ninth gold medal, confirming his status as the star of the region’s biggest multi-sports event.
A class above his rivals, the 19-year-old won gold in all nine events he entered and set 10 SEA Games records along the way.
“That was goal going into this meet and I’m happy to have reached my expectations and my targets,” he said after clinching his ninth gold medal, in the Singaporean 4×100 metre medley relay.
“It’s just one step forward to my ultimate dream and I think I’m on track for achieving that.”
Based in the United States, training and studying at the University of Texas, Schooling is already setting his sights on bigger things.
His immediate goal is this year’s world championships in Russia, where he will trim his workload back to three events, all butterfly, before turning his focus to next year’s Rio Olympics.
“This was just a small stepping stone to what I’m trying to achieve,” he said.
“I know it’s a big deal to Singapore and stuff, but I think a lot of guys on the team have gone past the SEA Games and we’re on a different platform right now than where we were a couple of years ago.
“We’re going to have to start looking at Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and slowly the worlds and ultimately the Olympics.”
Inspired by Schooling, Singapore finished the six-day swimming programme with 23 gold medals from 38 events.
Schooling’s 18-year-old team mate Quah Zheng Wen, another exciting prospect from the tiny city-state, won seven golds and medals in each of the 12 events he entered.
Vietnam finished second with 10 golds, eight of which were won by Florida-based teenager Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, a gold medallist at last year’s Youth Olympics.
With Vietnam unable to enter a relay team, the 18-year-old competed in 12 individual events, winning eight of them and finishing on the podium in two others.
On Thursday, she squeezed every ounce of energy to win the 200m breaststroke, one of her weakest events, then dived straight back in the pool after her medal ceremony and came fourth in the 100m butterfly, as her exhausting schedule finally caught up with her.
Like Schooling, Nguyen has bigger things in mind and will swim a much smaller programme at the world championships and Olympics, but all she wants for now is a rest.
“Eight gold medals. I’m happy,” she said. “But I’m very, very tired.”