SINGAPORE (Reuters) - As one of Singapore’s most successful and popular swimmers, Joseph Schooling knows the next two weeks of his life will be akin to living in a fish bowl.
The teenager is already a sporting celebrity in the tiny city-state because of his feats in the pool but his profile is set to soar to new heights with Singapore hosting the 28th Southeast Asian Games, starting next week.
Schooling is normally spared the daily scrutiny most sports stars experience because he lives and trains in the United States but his return home has triggered a new wave of interest in him.
He has spent the past week being whisked around Singapore for a seemingly never-ending promotional tour, posing for photographs and signing autographs with his legion of fans and being grilled by media.
“It is tiring, jumping up from one event to another event but it is something you’ve got to do,” he told Reuters in an interview.
”People have given me so much, sponsors, everyone - they’ve given me so many opportunities...so I feel obliged to kind of give back and just say thank you for all that.
“It is nice coming back and having all this. It’s fun but in the U.S. I like to be a normal kid also. No one knows all of us so it is kind of my time to get away from everything and simmer down.”
Schooling has already won seven SEA Games gold medals, including five at the last edition in Myanmar two years ago, but has his sights set on an even bigger total this time.
He has entered a whopping nine events - the grueling type of schedule normally reserved for the likes of Michael Phelps - but one the 19-year-old things he can scoop the lot in.
“Absolutely, I wouldn’t have set goals that I didn’t think I could achieve,” he said.
“I think I’ll get nine, but we’ll see.”
Although he swims freestyle and medley, Schooling’s best event is butterfly. He won a silver medal in the 100 meters butterfly at last year’s Commonwealth Games behind South Africa’s Olympic champion Chad le Clos.
Then he became the first Singaporean man in 32 years to win a gold medal in swimming at the Asian Games with victory in the 100m butterfly at Incheon.
Now Schooling has his sights set on bigger things. His first major goal is this year’s world championships in Russia, where he hopes to finish in the top three.
His ultimate goal though is next year’s Olympics in Rio where he hopes to become the first Singaporean to win a medal in swimming.
“I think if I can be top three in the world, I’ll be in a good spot,” he said.
”At the Olympics, anything can happen. I have my personal goals - I’ve always wanted to be an Olympic gold medalist as a kid, world record holder and everything.
“So, those dreams are very much still alive. Hopefully I can do that.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston