Third time's the charm for Schooling
SINGAPORE swimmer Joseph Schooling capped a phenomenal year in the pool when he was crowned The Straits Times Athlete of the Year 2014 yesterday.
The butterfly specialist, who was nominated for the award in 2011 and 2013 but did not win, edged out fellow Team Singapore colleagues Jazreel Tan (bowling), Aloysius Yapp (cuesports), Bernie Chin and Samantha Yom (both sailing) for the accolade.
Based in the United States, where he is a student at the University of Texas in Austin, Schooling - who could not attend yesterday's award ceremony at the Raffles Hotel - told the audience of 130 via Skype: "I'm really honoured. This is like the second-biggest award after the Singapore Sports Awards, and I'm looking forward to doing Singapore proud at the SEA Games in June."
The 19-year-old enjoyed a stellar 2014, delivering medals and rewriting history where it mattered. At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in July, he clinched a silver in the 100m butterfly in a national record of 51.69sec, finishing second only to Olympic champion Chad le Clos of South Africa.
It was Singapore's first swimming medal at the quadrennial meet and the eighth-fastest time in the world last year.
The university freshman followed that up with a stunning show at September's Asian Games, bagging a unique hat-trick of gold, silver and bronze in the 100m fly, 50m fly and 200m fly respectively in Incheon. His gold in the 100m fly was also the first by a Singaporean male swimmer in 32 years.
The Straits Times' sports editor Marc Lim, who headed the nine-member judging panel, said: "That Joseph's accomplishments in 2014 stand out, even against a cohort of Youth Olympic, World Junior and Asian Games champions, speaks volumes of what he has achieved.
"We have all long known about Joseph's talent. But 2014 was the year in which he truly showed he was ready to compete against the very best in the world.
"Perhaps his talent acted against him when he was previously nominated for his performances at the SEA Games but did not win. Then, we all felt he was destined for the bigger stage. And he proved last year that he does belong with the best, which is why he thoroughly deserves his award."
The award was presented to Schooling's parents by Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Communications and Information, who was guest of honour at the event.
Mr Wong said: "Joseph is a very deserving winner because of his achievements at the Asian Games and at the Commonwealth (Games).
"I think he has a lot of potential, he has shown that potential already, and he can still get better.
"He truly embodies the spirit of the games. He has bounced back from adversity, he has had to go through very tough training and he continues to maintain a certain humility about him."
The award, which is into its seventh edition, is sponsored by isotonic drink 100Plus. Aside from the award that started in 2009, 100Plus and The Straits Times has been giving out the ST Star of the Month award to recognise breakthrough performances during the sporting year.