Athletics: SEA Games defence a priority for marathoner Soh Rui Yong

Soh Rui Yong pounding the track with his training partner Alexi Pappas. Despite being unable to find a cure for tissue inflammation affecting his left foot, Soh will run the Chicago Marathon on Oct 9.
Soh Rui Yong pounding the track with his training partner Alexi Pappas. Despite being unable to find a cure for tissue inflammation affecting his left foot, Soh will run the Chicago Marathon on Oct 9.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SOH RUI YONG

Injury outlook improves as he eyes Olympic berth in Tokyo and historic second gold in KL

After last year's high of the SEA Games marathon gold, Soh Rui Yong came crashing back down with a thud as a niggling foot injury - now into its ninth month - and missing out on the Olympics made this a year to forget.

But refreshed and rebooting his outlook, the Singaporean is now aiming to become the first man to win back-to-back SEA Games marathon titles next year and add more national records to his name.

"The marathon and 5,000m are records I don't have yet, I'll be chasing those national records while training for the Games," said the 25-year-old, who already has the 10,000m (31min 15.95sec) mark under his belt.

But Soh's journey since winning the regional title on home soil last year has been a rocky one, with a plantar fasciitis injury - tissue inflammation at the bottom of his left foot - hindering much of his progress since last November.

At the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff in March, he partially tore the tissue and could not walk for two weeks.

WATCHING THE CLOCK

The marathon and 5,000m are records I don't have yet; I'll be chasing those national records while training for the Games.

SOH RUI YONG, on his targets for the coming year.

He sought expert medical help at home, in the United States and the United Kingdom to remedy the sharp pain in the heel and arch of the foot but Soh is frustrated that no cure has yet been found.

But after experiencing a slight improvement in June this year, the University of Oregon business graduate will be making a comeback at the Chicago Marathon on Oct 9, his first race since April's London Marathon.

"Today, I ran the longest run since (the London Marathon)," he told The Straits Times after a 42km training run. "I can make it in Chicago in six weeks as long as I'm healthy at the start line."

And Soh already has his sights on the 2020 Olympics, after missing out first on qualification and subsequently the wild card for Rio. Sprinter Timothee Yap earned the nod instead.

That prompted the marathoner to voice his displeasure over Singapore Athletics officials' decision to use national records as the primary criteria, which would have made race walker Edmund Sim the favourite. Soh argued that the wild card should not be "wasted" on those not as well equipped for Rio.

That drew a response from Mok Ying Ren, the 2013 SEA Games marathon champion, who posted an open letter on his website criticising Soh for showing a lack of respect for fellow athletes.

It's all "water under the bridge," Soh insisted.

"I think I initially had a realistic chance of making it to these Olympics, but the injury made it a slim chance.

"(For athletics) Singaporean athletes are usually sent on a wild card. I want to prove that Singaporean athletes can qualify. We can meet the Olympic standards."

And his luck is changing as well. While he baulked at the US$225 (S$305) entry fee for the Chicago Marathon, a moment of serendipity got him into the race for free.

Last month, he drove five hours from Oregon to Mammoth Lakes to pick up a training partner whose jeep had broken down and was introduced to Deena Kastor, the women's marathon bronze medallist at the 2004 Athens Games and holder of six American national records.

It was Kastor, and her husband Andrew, who called the organisers to waive Soh's fees.

He said: "At first, Chicago seemed too close for me. But because of all that, I'm in great shape.

"I'm ready to try another marathon."

Correction Note: An earlier version of this story said that long-distance runner Soh Rui Yong is now aiming to become the first man to win back-to-back SEA Games titles next year.  For clarity, the sentence should have specified that Soh is aiming for back-to-back marathon titles.

Correction Note: An earlier version of this story also said that Soh Rui Yong is the current holder of the the half-marathon record. This is incorrect. Singapore Athletics has clarified that the national half-marathon record belongs to Mok Ying Ren (1:07:08). We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'SEA Games defence a priority for Soh'. Print Edition | Subscribe