Athletics: Wild card pick still up in air

National race walker Edmund Sim (above) is likely to be Singapore's wild card entrant for the Olympics in August. Hurdler Ang Chen Xiang is next in the pecking order, according to Singapore Athletics' selection criteria prioritising national record-br
National race walker Edmund Sim (above) is likely to be Singapore's wild card entrant for the Olympics in August. Hurdler Ang Chen Xiang is next in the pecking order, according to Singapore Athletics' selection criteria prioritising national record-breakers.
National race walker Edmund Sim is likely to be Singapore's wild card entrant for the Olympics in August. Hurdler Ang Chen Xiang (above) is next in the pecking order, according to Singapore Athletics' selection criteria prioritising national record-breake
National race walker Edmund Sim is likely to be Singapore's wild card entrant for the Olympics in August. Hurdler Ang Chen Xiang (above) is next in the pecking order, according to Singapore Athletics' selection criteria prioritising national record-breakers.

Singapore Athletics' yardstick of placing national record-breakers first is criticised

Even with the clock fast ticking down to the start of the Aug 5-21 Olympic Games, the debate in local athletics over which male athlete will receive the lone wild card should it become available to Team Singapore is nowhere close to being resolved.

It is understood that Singapore Athletics (SA) has come up with a shortlist of athletes who could be awarded a wild card, should no male athlete earn a ticket to Rio de Janeiro based on merit before the qualifying window closes on July 11.

No wild card for female athletes is available since marathoner Neo Jie Shi qualified on merit.

Based on SA's selection criteria, which places a priority on athletes who have broken national records (in order of margin), race walker Edmund Sim is currently the front runner, followed by hurdler Ang Chen Xiang.

Both broke national records last year. Sim improved on his previous best in the 20km race walk at last year's Asian Championships, clocking 1hr 34min 49sec to beat his own 2012 mark of 1:36:01.

Ang ran 14.44sec in the 110m hurdles at last year's Singapore Open, improving on Abdul Hakeem Halim's record by 0.01.

Marathoner Soh Rui Yong, meanwhile, is third in the running having won the men's event at last year's SEA Games.

The 24-year-old has campaigned publicly to qualify for the Rio Olympics. However, having been hampered in his bid to qualify by a niggling foot injury for months, he admits his road to Rio will materialise only through the wild card.

Speaking from his training base in Oregon yesterday, Soh said he is forgoing a last shot at qualifying at the Gold Coast Marathon in the first week of July.

He said he has only managed to run pain-free in the last three days, with the plantar fasciitis issue - tissue inflammation at the bottom of the foot - that began in November last year finally recovering well following treatment by physio Chris Whetstine in Oregon.

"I've made more progress in one month (with Whetstine) than the last half year combined. It's a good step forward. That being said, until my foot condition stabilises, I don't want to take the risk of putting it through another marathon," he said.

Soh noted his bid to make this Olympics is not over. He intends to use the next six weeks to prepare for the Olympics - should the wild card ticket come his way - and is confident of being in shape for it.

But the runner reserved criticism for SA's selection criteria, lambasting its lack of robustness.

He also questioned officials for prioritising national record-breakers over SEA Games medallists.

Said Soh, the only male track and field champion from last year's SEA Games: "The way the wild card is being used is completely senseless. We have many national record-setters but only a few SEA Games gold medallists over the last 10, 20 years. The whole thing is just a mess.

"We should send an athlete who is best-equipped to compete at the Olympic level. It should be someone who is able to carry on to qualify for the Olympics in the future.

"There was no process in the past... and none of the athletes we've sent have come back to qualify and improve.

"Why are we wasting this opportunity to give someone the experience that can be valuable for future development?"

SA vice-president of training and selection C. Kunalan said any athlete can still make their case for the wild card until July 11, with several athletes pencilled in for meets that count towards qualifying till then.

He said: "It's impossible to please everyone because there is only one wild card available. This is what the committee has decided and it's what the athletes have to follow."

But Kunalan noted that the selection criteria is not final, with the SA management committee holding the final say.

Race walker Sim, meanwhile, said he has always kept a consistent training schedule and will be ready for Rio should he be given the wild card.

He said: "Everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is a criteria set by SA, and I just have to rely on that information.

"My priority has always been to better myself. Even without the Olympics, I'm still working hard."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Wild card pick still up in air'. Print Edition | Subscribe