SEA Games 31: Singapore’s swimmer eyes gold medal hinh anh 1Singapore's swimmer Joseph Schooling won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.(Photo: VNA)

Singapore (VNA) – After enduring a challenging year, Olympic swimming gold medalist Joseph Schooling is aiming to win a gold medal at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 31) which takes place in Vietnam in May.

2021 is a difficult year in both his career and personal life for 27-year-old Schooling. He was unable to defend his Olympic title in the 100m butterfly event and finished at 44th overall. The defeat put him under great pressure from fans and media in the country.

Later in the year, his father died at the age of 73 after undergoing treatment for cancer. His parents played a key role in Schooling’s rise to swimming stardom, which culminated in their son’s gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I think it takes years or maybe you go on your whole life feeling like something's amiss. And that's just an indication of (the fact that) you really cared for him, you really loved him,” he told Channel NewsAsia (CNA).

Fortunately, it was his father’s "Colinisms"  - things he would say about life – are something Schooling holds on to. He gradually thought more positively, looking to the future instead of drowning in pain and the past..

He enlisted for National Service in January this year. After completing his service in March, he competed at the 52nd Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships (SNAG) Major Games Qualifier. There, he clocked 52.09 seconds in the 100m butterfly finals, his best time in more than two years. This meant that he met the "A" cuts for the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games which will be held later this year.

Despite having competed at the highest level, the SEA Games still hold much meaning for Schooling.

Schooling rose to fame at the 26th SEA Games held in Indonesia in 2011 where he won two gold medals. Schooling is one of the most talented athletes in the history of the SEA Games, grabbing 31 medals, including 27 gold medals across five Games.

"SEA Games is something that I grew up with being like the creme de la creme. Of course, the Olympics is the apex. But SEA Games was always something that hit close to home,” Schooling was quoted by CNA as saying.

"I may have taken the SEA Games for granted maybe two or three times. But towards the end of your career, you look back and you see how important these kinds of Games are. Every single meet you have an opportunity to step up at is an important Games ... At the end of the day, it's you're wearing a flag, so no matter what kind of level, you better represent it at the highest," he said./.