Singapore's Joseph Schooling

WHILE Malaysia’s cycling world champion Azizulhasni Awang has humbly told his Sea Games rivals not to feel intimidated by his presence, Singapore’s Olympic champion Joseph Schooling has been slammed by fans as arrogant for saying Singapore will “teach” Malaysian swimmers a lesson in their own backyard.

“We are not worried about Singapore and their Olympic champion Joseph Schooling”.

This was national coach Paul Birmingham’s reply to Schooling’s boastful statement over plans to send his Malaysian counterparts “back to school” in the swimming competition of the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games in Bukit Jalil on Aug 21-26.

Singapore are regarded as the ‘undisputed’ champion in swimming in Southeast Asia. In the 2015 edition in Singapore, the Schooling-led team won 23 out of 38 gold medals. Schooling, himself, contributed nine titles.

Singapore swimmers are also expected to dominate the pool in KL where 38 gold medals are at stake.

“Basically, our swimmers are focused on their training and performances. They are not really worried or distracted by external comments. It is really not an issue for our swimmers at all,” Birmingham told Timesport yesterday.

“Our gold medal potentials are not even swimming in Schooling’s events. I do not want to start a war of words over this matter. I have never taken Schooling to be disrespectful... I just do not want to beat something up.

Schooling was quoted on Aug 1 as saying that Singapore will “teach” Malaysian swimmers a lesson in their own backyard at the Sea Games.

“We have a chance to do something special at the Sea Games... 2015 was something special for us, I think it will be nice to go to Malaysia’s backyard and teach them a thing or two,” Schooling told www.channelnewsasia.com.

However, Schooling’s comments were seen as arrogant by swimming fans. In contrast, Malaysia’s keirin world champion Azizulhasni Awang told his Sea Games rivals not to feel intimidated by his presence but use the opportunity to learn from the best riders.

The Singaporean created history last year by becoming the first male swimmer from Southeast Asia to win an Olympic gold when he beat American legend Michael Phelps for the men’s 100m butterfly gold medal at the Rio Games.

“I really do not know the context of how he said it... probably the article was written in a sensational manner. There’s no animosity at all between concerned parties,” said Birmingham.

“Singapore swimmers are pretty level headed people, and so I am not too worried about Schooling’s boastful statement,” said Birmingham, who predicted that Singapore will win close to half of the swimming gold medals in the Sea Games.

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