'It's hard to swallow' says Joseph Schooling after losing
Joseph Schooling falters in bid to defend 100m Olympic butterfly crown, finishing last in his heat
He vowed he will not end his swimming career like this, and said the timing did not reflect everything he and his team had done for the year.
Said Singapore's Olympic champion Joseph Schooling: "Sometimes it's how it is. It's hard to swallow, it's hard to digest, but at the same time, you live to fight another day.
"And I sure as hell don't want to end it (my career) like this, it's just one of those meets."
The defending Olympic 100m butterfly champion saw his title defence stumble at the first hurdle yesterday, after failing to qualify for today's semi-finals. He posted a time of 53.12 seconds and finished last out of eight swimmers in Heat 5 at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
His disappointment was shared by fellow Singaporean, paddler Yu Mengyu, who lost 4-1 to world No. 2 Mima Ito in the bronze medal play-off despite a fighting display.
Yu, a surprise semi-finalist in the women's singles, had aggravated an injury in her 4-0 semi-final defeat by world No. 1 Chen Meng of China in the morning but bounced back against her Japanese opponent, even winning the first game.
With their exits, Singapore saw two of its best medal hopes at Tokyo 2020 scuppered amid fierce competition.
Schooling's timing yesterday was 2.73sec slower than his historic Rio 2016 gold medal-winning time of 50.39sec and saw him ranked 44th out of 55 competitors.
Compatriot Quah Zheng Wen, 24, who reached the semis in Rio de Janeiro, fared slightly better, finishing 34th after clocking 52.39.
Only the top 16 swimmers advanced to the semis, with the slowest qualifier, China's Sun Jiajun, clocking a 51.74. That is quicker than both Schooling's (51.84) and Quah's (51.87) Olympic qualification times - both set at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines.
Calling it a "disappointing performance overall", Schooling, the Republic's only ever Olympic champion, admitted that "the feel was a bit off" and he felt "a bit flat".
The 26-year-old explained: "This feels like you're boxing 12 rounds and you're starting on the 12th or 11th round. So, that's just how it felt...
"It's not a complete wash. I think fitness-wise from 2019 to now... we've come leaps and bounds. It's just finding that spark that can be that one realisation or maybe a month or two of work."
Two-time Olympian David Lim, head coach and managing director at Swimfast Aquatic Group, said it looked as if Schooling was "a bit heavy in the water".
He told The New Paper: "The difference between this race and the one in Rio was that by the time he was out at 25m, he was way ahead. This time, I don't know if he was holding back...
"He looked a bit heavy in the water. He used to be very light, he would come out bouncing like skipping stones."
National training centre head coach Gary Tan, meanwhile, said he hoped Schooling "comes back stronger" after "struggling to find form" ahead of the Games.
He said: "The boy is definitely disappointed with this result. I think he's worked as hard as he can for the last 15 months... I hope that he comes back stronger."
Lim was at pains to point out that, regardless of Schooling's performance in Tokyo, his legacy as a Singaporean sporting trailblazer must not be forgotten.
He said: "Jo's still the only Olympic gold medallist for Singapore... It's easy to forget...
"If our best is not up to the mark, we have to go back to the drawing board... Athletes don't train like mad, day in, day out, to go to a major Games and not perform on purpose."
Sport's unforgiving nature was also on display for Yu at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
The unfancied world No. 47 shocked Ito in the opening game before succumbing 6-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-7, 11-6.
Said the 31-year-old: "Maybe there were a lot of expectations on me after I made the final four because they think I'm so close to a medal, and maybe I allowed myself to believe that, too.
"I wanted to deliver a medal as a gift to celebrate National Day, and it's a shame I couldn't."