Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling returned home to a rousing welcome on Monday after winning the city-state`s first ever Olympic gold medal with a stunning victory over the legendary Michael Phelps.
The 21-year-old Asian champion set a new Olympic record of 50.39sec in Rio on Friday as he edged out his American idol Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, in the men`s 100m butterfly final.
“Joseph, I love you!” a fan screamed as others chanted “Schooling” and “Singapore” when he emerged into the arrivals hall at Changi Airport at 6:20 am on Monday wearing his gold medal and a red jacket.
Schooling immediately hugged his waiting father Colin, 68, who was unable to make the long journey to Rio after falling ill. They posed for a family picture with his mother May, 61, who was his biggest cheerleader in Brazil.
Thank you everyone for being here so early in the morning. This is not just for me, but for all of you,” Schooling said in a brief speech before wading into the crowd of some 500 people including an international media contingent.
He was still signing autographs more than an hour later.
The government, in a widely expected move, announced that Schooling will not have to undergo mandatory military training until after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Supporters have been clamouring for an extension of Schooling`s deferment from two years of military training, a mandatory requirement for all able-bodied Singaporean men when they turn 18.
Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a statement Monday the deferment had been approved.
“Today, the Armed Forces Council approved Mr Joseph Schooling`s request for extension of his deferment and for him to be enlisted for NS (National Service) after the 2020 Olympic Games,” Ng said.
“Together with all of Singapore, MINDEF (Ministry of Defence) wishes Mr Schooling continued success in the next Olympic Games.”