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Joseph Schooling knows he must perform as he returns to Singapore for 2020 Tokyo Olympics training

The Straits Times by NICOLE CHIA

Olympic champion Joseph Schooling is ready to go "more than full steam ahead" when he moves back to Singapore early next year to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The 23-year-old said in a video interview for the SwimSwam website last week that he would return to Singapore in "January or February" 2019, after completing his undergraduate studies with the University of Texas at Austin next month.

Upon his return, he is looking forward to working with the Singapore Swimming Association's (SSA) national head coach and performance director Stephan Widmer, technical director Sonya Porter and National Training Centre (NTC) head coach Gary Tan.

"It's (coming back) going to be awesome, I am super excited. Sonya, Stephan and Gary give me the attention I want; they are all in. All of them," Schooling told reporters at the OCBC Aquatic Centre after the Fina Swimming World Cup Singapore media conference at Kallang Wave Mall yesterday.

"The definition of a good coach for me is when they are watching me do something, there's something inside me that wants to make them proud and they inspire the best out of me.

"That's exactly what the three of them do, day in and day out, along with my strength coach.

"These people get me, they know what makes me tick. That's why I am very excited to come home and start this new chapter heading into 2020 with all of them."

SETTING THE STAGE

It's at a high level, but it's also a good opportunity to come back... to step up and race and see where I am at so that we can improve on things that I don't like about what I did at this meet.

'' JOSEPH SCHOOLING, likening the short-course Fina Swimming World Cup Singapore starting today to an early-season training meet for him.

Acknowledging the 2019 Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea as a key milestone before the Games, Schooling said: "I think a year before the Olympics, it's important to start performing and get up there.

"There is no more post-Olympic hangover, no more excuses. I think it'd be good and that's the meet I'm gunning for, along with the SEA Games (in the Philippines) in November (and December)."

Schooling won the 100m butterfly title in Rio de Janeiro in an Olympic record of 50.39 seconds under the guidance of Texas Longhorns coach Eddie Reese, and he believes his coaching team at the NTC "have a more solid plan than ever before".

"I loved the work that we did heading into the Asian Games and now that I am going to be back fully, they (the NTC coaches) will know everything that I have been doing and have complete control," he said.

Schooling spent about three months training in Singapore before August's Asian Games in Jakarta, where he won the men's 50m and 100m butterfly titles and two freestyle relay bronzes.

Prior to his three-month stint with the NTC, the swim star felt that he had become too "top heavy" with his weights regimen so the coaches here gave him more exercises to improve his mobility.

He will compete in the 50m and 100m fly in the short-course World Cup event at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, as well as the 4x50m mixed medley relay, but will treat the Nov 15-17 meet - which features top swimmers such as Olympic champions Katinka Hosszu of Hungary and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden - as an early-season training meet.

"It's at a high level, but it's also a good opportunity to come back... to step up and race and see where I am at so that we can improve on things that I don't like about what I did at this meet," he added.

Schooling is expected to face stiff competition from the likes of China's Li Zhuhao, who finished second to Schooling in the 100m butterfly at the last two Asian Games. The pair will face off in a short-course meet for the first time today in the men's 100m fly, and the 19-year-old Li feels "a mixture of fear and anticipation".

"I fear that he will be very fast, but I'm also looking forward to getting a good result against him," said Li, who was second to Chad le Clos in the 100m fly in Singapore last year.

The teenager, who finished fifth in the 100m fly in Rio, will feature in the 50m, 100m and 200m fly events at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

He added: "I watched videos (of Schooling) at the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games. To me, his technique, physique and body composition are all very good and better than mine.

"So in every aspect, I need to learn from him."