Olympics: Joseph Schooling has his work cut out in title defence
Swimming is a sport of seconds, and the numbers bear out the magnitude of Joseph Schooling's task as he begins his Olympic 100m butterfly title defence at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre today.
At Rio 2016, Schooling became Singapore's first gold medallist, trumping a stellar field including Michael Phelps, Chad le Clos and Laszlo Cseh in 50.39 seconds.
While Phelps, the most bemedalled Olympian, has since retired, the Singaporean's task in Tokyo has not become any easier.
Phelps' heir apparent Caeleb Dressel, Schooling's former teammate at Bolles School, lowered the world record to 49.50sec at the World Championships in 2019.
Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Singaporean has been unable to better his Rio de Janeiro mark. His best timing this year was 52.93sec, which he clocked in both March and May.
American Dressel, 24, a 13-time gold medallist at the long-course World Championships, owns the three fastest 100m fly times this year, including a 49.76 set just last month.
Hungarian Kristof Milak, 21, who won the 200m fly in Tokyo yesterday, has also bettered Schooling's Rio time, having clocked 50.18 at the European Championships in May.
Another young gun, 22-year-old Matthew Temple of Australia, clocked 50.45 just last month.
Four other swimmers - Michael Andrew, Mehdy Metella, Josif Miladinov and James Guy - have clocked sub-51sec times this year, with only Andrew not competing in the 100m fly in Japan.
Schooling begins his title defence in Heat 5 today, and even there, he is likely to face stiff competition.
All seven of the 26-year-old's Heat 5 rivals have posted faster times than him this year. All of which, besides Belarusian Yauhen Tsurkin's 52.60 last month, have been below 52 seconds.
The 16 fastest swimmers from the 59 competitors across eight heats will qualify for the semi-finals tomorrow, where eight will move on to the 100m fly final on Saturday.
The Tokyo 2020 official 100m fly entry list ranks Schooling 32nd, by virtue of his 51.84 qualification time set at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines. Compatriot Quah Zheng Wen (51.87sec), who will be in Heat 4, is ranked 33rd.
After Schooling's 100m freestyle heat on Tuesday, he said his timing of 49.84sec was "not very good" but added: "The time I posted was maybe about a second ahead of anything I've done leading up to this meet.
"So, that's a good reflection on where the fly is going to be, and the emphasis has been on the fly... I'm excited for what's going to happen."
While Schooling failed to make the 100m free semi-finals, like he did at Rio 2016, his preparations for Tokyo 2020 has been focused on his pet event, the 100m fly.