Olympics: Athletics wild card goes to sprinter Timothee Yap

Timothee Yap, 21, is a former 400m hurdler who made the switch to the 100m and 200m sprint only last year. His personal best is 10.62 seconds set in Portugal two weeks ago.
Timothee Yap, 21, is a former 400m hurdler who made the switch to the 100m and 200m sprint only last year. His personal best is 10.62 seconds set in Portugal two weeks ago. PHOTO COURTESY OF JERALD SAW

Athletes urges track and field body to improve selection process in wake of furore

The divisive wild-card issue that has generated much heat in the track and field fraternity for months finally drew to a close yesterday, after Singapore Athletics (SA) submitted its nomination to the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).

The Straits Times understands that sprinter Timothee Yap has been nominated by SA to take up the lone wild card available and pending the SNOC's approval, is set to make his Olympic debut in the 100m sprint at the Rio Games.

Another athlete has been selected as a backup.

The 21-year-old Yap's nomination comes after the selection criteria was adjusted last week by the SA's newly-elected management committee, which returned to the International Association for Athletic Federation's (IAAF)'s scoring table as reference.

The previous selection criteria, put in place late last year, gave national record breakers priority.

JOINING THE BIG TIME

It's a huge privilege. Going to the Olympics is every athlete's dream, and even more of a blessing since I switched to the 100m only last year.

TIMOTHEE YAP, a former schoolboy 400m hurdler.

According to the scoring table, Yap holds the highest points among national track and field athletes within the qualifying window, aided by a personal best clocked a fortnight ago in Portugal. He posted 10.62sec, a time that propelled him to second among active 100m runners.

Team-mate Calvin Kang is faster with a personal best of 10.47 clocked at last year's SEA Games and a season's best of 10.58, but is ineligible this time round as he had previously competed at the 2008 Games on a wild card.

Wild-card entries are available to countries that do not have athletes qualifying for the Olympics on merit. In Singapore's case, no men have made the cut.

Still, the decision is one that will leave many in the fraternity hot under the collar. It has already drawn criticism from the likes of marathoner Soh Rui Yong, who crossed swords with fellow marathoner Mok Ying Ren on social media over the issue. Both tried to qualify for the Rio Games.

Race walker Edmund Sim, in particular, took issue with the last-minute U-turn in the selection criteria. The 33-year-old had been the front runner for the wild card under the previous criteria.

He said: "It does not need to favour me. SA has the discretion to use whatever criteria it wants to select athletes. But it's only fair that it is up front earlier, sets the rules early, and keeps to it."

SNOC secretary-general Chris Chan, however, lauded the new SA committee for acting fast.

He said: "The qualification documents state that teams which did not qualify are allowed to send their best athlete. To SA's credit, it didn't drag its feet. If something is wrong, you want to put it right."

Meanwhile, Yap has had a whirlwind last few days, racing against time to get his results ratified by the Portuguese athletics federation over the weekend.

He gave credit to coach Luis Cunha, a Portuguese, for tapping on his connections and going out of the way to obtain the certification, and admitted that anxiety had kept him awake the night before.

"It's a huge privilege. Going to the Olympics is every athlete's dream, and even more of a blessing since I switched to the 100m only last year," said Yap, who has just completed his freshman year as a law undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Yap was previously a 400m hurdler, but turned to focus on the blue-riband event after completing National Service last year.

"It's not been easy juggling law school and training," he added, noting that the NUS law faculty had allowed him special provision in terms of scheduling classes. "Thankfully, I had the support from people like my parents, coach, friends and my sponsor, Puma."

In a Facebook post yesterday, Soh adopted a more conciliatory tone. The 24-year-old, who is currently training in Oregon, wrote: "The only thing I'm asking for from SA is a well thought-through selection process. There will never be a fair way to compare a 100m runner to a marathoner, a thrower or a jumper. So multiple factors have to be considered, not just one.

"It's encouraging to know SA is re-thinking its selection process. I hope it comes up with a better process. And whoever it picks, I will support and cheer on at the Olympic Games."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'Olympic wild card goes to sprinter Yap'. Print Edition | Subscribe