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Retired Olympic champ Joseph Schooling admits public expectations 'weighed' on swim career

SINGAPORE: Like every athlete which came before and will come after him, Joseph Schooling has had to deal with scrutiny and stress.

Yet the difference is that Singapore's only Olympic champion has been put under the microscope like no other local sportsperson.

Speaking to CNA after announcing his retirement on Tuesday (Apr 2), the 28-year-old swim star admitted that the "most" pressure he has ever felt was when defending his 2016 title at the next Olympics. And it was exacerbated by the fact that he wasn't at a level where he wanted to be. 

"The stress has always been there, but if I'm physically and mentally prepared, I have nothing to worry about, because all of this is just outside noise," he said.

"It's the moment where you know that you're not in the spot where you like to be or you know you should be, that's when the stress from the outside; also consequences if I don't podium, don't medal, what's going to happen – those weighed on my mind.

"But it's my job to manage those expectations."

Looking back, there are things which Schooling believes he could have done differently after his win in Rio, where he famously beat his idol Michael Phelps.

"Comfort is the mother of all mess-ups ... I felt like I did what I wanted to do, I felt that I was very comfortable and comfort felt great. That was the first time in my life I felt that way," he explained.

"It was a period where a 21-year-old me had to go through a lot of these life experiences and maybe didn't have the maturity to match up and make those decisions like I do now for example."

He said he could have stepped back, refocused and been "honest" with himself on the work needed to maintain that level he'd reached.

"Am I actually willing to put that in? Or am I doing this