Rewarded for leap of faith

National 400m runner Ng Chin Hui (left) has joined marathon runner Soh Rui Yong at the University of Oregon. The former qualified this week for the college's prestigious track and field team, known as the Ducks.
National 400m runner Ng Chin Hui (left) has joined marathon runner Soh Rui Yong at the University of Oregon. The former qualified this week for the college's prestigious track and field team, known as the Ducks. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOH RUI YONG

S'pore 400m runner Ng earns preliminary spot on University of Oregon's famed athletics team

While the cheetah is the animal of choice for most sprinters, national 400m runner Ng Chin Hui just wants to be a duck instead.

He dreamed of a spot on the University of Oregon's elite track and field team, known as the Ducks.

A month ago, he took a gamble and enrolled in the university, hoping that his ability would help him to qualify for the team.

Yesterday, that gamble paid off.

Ng impressed in the two-round trials that included 30m sprints and 300m runs, winning a probationary spot on the team.

LACKING KEEN COMPETITION

He is a natural runner who's got good potential but perhaps the absence of a higher standard of runners here means that it was hard for him to push forward.

LOH CHAN PEW, coach of national 400m runner Ng Chin Hui since he was a Secondary 1 student

He was the only athlete to crack the three-second mark - clocking 2.99sec - in the 30m.

He is the first Singaporean in more than 30 years to join the Ducks since Sport Singapore chairman Richard Seow, a former sprinter, in 1979-80.

The prestigious college has produced several Olympic and world champions, including current decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton of the United States.

Former Ducks had won 16 Olympic medals for four nations: the US, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

Ng, a 21-year-old economics undergraduate, said: "I'm more relieved than happy. It's what I've come here for.

"Coming here but not even sure if I could make the team, it was a leap of faith and I took a gamble."

Last December, Ng approached fellow Singaporean Soh Rui Yong, who is a business undergraduate at the university, to discuss the prospects of training in the US, where Soh has thrived to become the Republic's top marathoner.

Soh, 24, who is not in the Ducks team because the marathon is not a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sport, said: "He's one of the most talented guys I've ever met. He's come here with a lot more experience already than I did. I'm sure Chin Hui will get even better."

With a higher level of competition and training standards, Ng looks set to better his personal best of 47.92sec, set at the SEA Youth Athletics Championships in 2012.

The national record is 47.29sec, set by Zubin Muncherji last year.

Ng said: "Back in Singapore, I was running in Schools National meets and there wasn't a really high level of competition.

"But here (in Oregon), I'm a nobody. Running with these world-class athletes who are faster than me, these guys will really push me beyond my limits."

Loh Chan Pew, Ng's coach since he was a Secondary 1 student at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), is confident his charge will flourish in the new environment.

Loh said: "He is a natural runner who's got good potential but perhaps the absence of a higher standard of runners here means that it was hard for him to push forward.

"So I'm pleased that he got in (to) a famous 400m university, where runners average 45 and 46 seconds.

"He should be able to break the national record by June, and he can be one of our medal hopes for the 2017 SEA Games."

Ng finished seventh in the 400m finals in June's SEA Games.

The Ducks, founded in 1895, have one of the best athletics programmes in the US. They are the reigning NCAA champions and have inspired two Hollywood movies - Prefontaine (1997) and Without Limits (1998).

While Ng rejoices over his inclusion in the team, he also knows that he must work hard to nail down a regular spot.

The Raffles Institution (Year 5 and 6) alumnus said: "I'm still under probation. The coach has told me that if I do not perform up to their standards, I will be kicked out.

"They are eager to retain their status as the champions in the US.

"This just means that I'm going to work even harder now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'REWARDED FOR LEAP OF FAITH'. Print Edition | Subscribe