» Olympics 2012

Losing an Olympic chance over a cap

Joseph Schooling

Publication Date : 31-07-2012


Life changes in a second in swimming. Sometimes, sadly, even before a race. Yesterday morning, in the call-up area before his 200m butterfly heat, an official told Joseph Schooling his cap made by TYR was not approved. He was given another. He was told his goggles were not approved and with a pen the manufacturer's name was obscured and he used it.

But it was enough. Joseph is 17. His last biggest Games was in Palembang and this is London and he was sitting in a room with Michael Phelps. It is when athletes need their sharpest focus and he got an interrogation on his cap.

The result for an understandably rattled swimmer, whose fastest time is 1:56.67, was a slower 1:59.18 and a finish in 26th place.

Clearly upset, he said: "I was shaky because before the race they made me change my cap. It messed up my focus. In the morning I was hoping for 1.55 and I am extremely disappointed." Said father Colin Schooling: "His whole concentration went haywire."

His US coach, Sergio Lopez, added: "If it happened to anybody just 10 minutes before a race it would create a problem. And it is horrible for us because we have trained the whole year for this."

A chance was sweated for and sacrificed for, by family, coach, swimmer. A chance is gone. The next 200m butterfly at an Olympics is in 2016. This was a tragedy. So was the fact that no one knew the cap was not approved.

On the website of Fina, the sport's world body, there is a list of approved swimwear. Manufacturers have to register their equipment for approval and the final list for "all swimwear used at the Olympic Games" was put up in January. On the website it says: "Valid for the period from 01 January 2012 to 31 December 2012."

Either way, under the approved products by TYR Sports Inc on the Fina website are swimsuits. But no goggles. No caps.

How did no one not check this?

No one is certain what happened. Apparently Singapore officials were required to submit a list of equipment for approval to the International Olympic Committee. But that, possibly, may have had to do with ambush marketing.

To clear up that confusion, Singapore chef de mission Jessie Phua said: "We have lodged a complaint with the IOC, and the IOC said they will be contacting Fina. Joseph was robbed, but now is not the time to play the blame game."

Phua was being sensible, for controversy distracts. But an investigation, even within Singapore sport, is imperative.

Modern sport is built on excruciating detail. Athletes know precisely how many calories they ingest and how much to hydrate to the sip. Of course, accidents happen, like Phelps' goggles filling with water in Beijing. But those are the uncontrollables of sport and this was not.

Lopez says "for TYR not to have registered them (caps and goggles) for this competition and then send us caps with a Singapore flag on it is strange". Maybe TYR is at fault, but how did we not know? A list exists in black and white. It will be a pity if a boy has been let down by grown-ups.

If for us there is a sense of anti-climax, imagine Joseph. His fury was evident on Facebook, where he wrote: "Never mind, I am going to smash the 100 fly."

The kid has character for, later, he still managed to find a thrill at being at the Games: "I have never seen anything like it, it is majestic." Now, hopefully, in the pool he will be.

For every swimmer, the still water before a race sits there like a liquid canvas. Joseph could not show his art properly yesterday. But perhaps, on Thursday, in his less-favoured event, he will.


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