Schooling’s victory at Rio in 2016 was a triumph shared by the nation. He was feted like a king on his return, with fans at the airport chanting and screaming his name. Swim schools in Singapore saw an enrolment boost from mini Schooling hopefuls, brands clamoured to work with him and fans obsessed over what he ate or who he was seeing.

Sporting heroes have come and gone, their names scrolled into the annals of sporting history, but the memories of them fade with the generations.

Schooling’s legacy is undoubtedly etched deeper. After all, this was the man who outswam the legendary Michael Phelps and made Majulah Singapura ring at the Olympic Games.

And now is his time to enjoy being “normal”, to enjoy a side of life he’s passed up on in favour of laps and laps in the pool. He’s more than earned it.

KNOWING WHEN TO LEAVE

When it comes to the decision of whether to stay or to go, each athlete faces their own unique set of challenges and circumstances.

Some choose to press on, bound by a sense of responsibility to their team.

Take men’s water polo captain Lee Kai Yang, who took stepped away from the sport for three months after a disappointing 2019 SEA Games, but returned to reclaim gold for Singapore four years later.

In Lee’s case, there was unfinished business, the “element of responsibility” to leave his team in a good spot.

“I definitely wasn’t going to stop until I got it back and I think that was the sentiment for many of my teammates too,” he told CNA on Tuesday.

While there are a number of athletes who compete well into their late 30s and 40s, the typical retirement age for athletes is said to be usually between 28 and 32.

But there is no hard and fast rule.

We’ve seen how great athletes such as tennis player Steffi Graf and American football legend Barry Sanders quit while they were at the pinnacle of their sport.

There are also others who call time when love wanes. There was a sense of that with Schooling, who told reporters that he did not “enjoy the grind” anymore.

“I still remember when I was four years old, I used to be so excited to hop into the unreasonably freezing pool … Fast forward to where we are today. I woke up not feeling the same excitement to go to practice,” he said.

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