KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 21, (AFP): Singapore’s Olympic champion swimmer Joseph Schooling put a “rough summer” behind him as he stormed to 50m butterfly gold in tournament-record time at the Southeast Asian Games on Monday.
Schooling flopped at the July world championships, just a year after his shock Olympic 100m butterfly victory, and he also had to apologise after upsetting Malaysian fans before the SEA Games.
But Schooling, after a warm reception from the Kuala Lumpur crowd, outclassed the field with a time of 23.06sec, beating his SEA Games record set in 2015 but outside his Asian mark.
“Everyone’s gotten faster really, so being able to come back and to win after a rough summer definitely means a lot to me,” said the 22-year-old, who won by nearly a second ahead of Indonesia’s Fauzi Sidiq.
“I was a little nervous going in, you never know how it’s going to be. I felt pretty solid, I was happy with the way I felt. Usually I feel better throughout the meet so hopefully I can keep the ball rolling,” he added.
Schooling, who could only take 100m butterfly bronze at the Budapest worlds, found himself in the firing line when he cheekily said he wanted to “teach (Malaysians) a thing or two”, a remark for which he later apologised.
He said he wasn’t sure how he would be received by the crowd, but there was no booing as he was introduced on the first night of the swimming competition, where he is going for six titles.
“We’re here to have a good meet and to put on a good show and I think the crowd wants to see that … they really pack the stands and come out and support all of us, so that’s amazing,” he said.
“So I’m very pleased with the reception and I think it will get better as the days go on, I’m excited for that.”
In other races, Vietnam’s “Little Mermaid” Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, who grabbed eight gold medals at the 2015 SEA Games, won the women’s 100m backstroke in a Games-record time of 1:01.89.
Quah Jing Wen easily won the women’s 200m butterfly in 2:12.03, and then recovered to anchor Singapore to victory in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
Home favourite Welson Wee won the men’s 400m freestyle in a Games-record 3:50.26, and Indonesia’s Siman Sudartawa also set a new tournament mark of 25.20 in winning the men’s 50m backstroke.
Wee’s victory helped Malaysia extend their lead on the medals table as they reached 23 golds near the end of day two, 10 ahead of Singapore.
Mohd Harrif Saleh shrugged off a waist injury to win cycling’s men’s criterium, and Malaysia also triumphed in men’s double trap shooting, men’s doubles bowling and men’s team recurve archery.
The Philippines swept gold and silver in both the men’s and women’s triathlon, as Nikko Bryan won the men’s ahead of John Chicano and Marion Kim Mangrobang and Maria Claire Adorna topped the women’s race.
Tuesday will be the busiest day of competition so far, with 45 gold medals on offer including eight on the first day of track and field.