SEA Games: Marathon among athletics events facing SEA Games axe

Marathon runner Soh Rui Yong, the 2015 SEA Games gold medallist, may not have the chance to defend his title at the 2017 Games in Malaysia.
Marathon runner Soh Rui Yong, the 2015 SEA Games gold medallist, may not have the chance to defend his title at the 2017 Games in Malaysia.ST FILE PHOTO

S'pore to feel pain as marathon omitted from provisional list for KL SEA Games

Several athletics events including the marathon, 10,000m and 3,000m steeplechase events have been provisionally dropped from the next SEA Games, a move that could mean the exclusion of these events from the biennial meet for the first time in 16 years.

It would also hurt Singapore's gold medal hopes. While the Republic has had limited success in the latter two events, the men's marathon has delivered golds at two straight Games - with Mok Ying Ren winning at the 2013 Naypyitaw Games before Soh Rui Yong took gold on home soil last year.

The women's steeplechase event was not contested from 2001 to 2009, but the 10,000m and marathon have been held without fail from at least 2001, the last time Malaysia hosted the SEA Games.

Malaysian organisers said the decision was made with the hope of running a more compact Games at the 2017 Kuala Lumpur edition.

STREAMLINING THE GAMES

We're just trying to make this a more meaningful, impactful and compact Games.

LOW BENG CHOO, OCM secretary-general, justifies the possible removal of some events.

"When we looked through the statistics, quite a number of these events do not have many participants, and they do take a bit of time to complete," Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary-general Low Beng Choo told The Sunday Times yesterday.

"It looks funny when you have 11 countries in South-east Asia but just three or four athletes from two countries taking part in an event."

'KAMPONG BICKERING'

By pulling stunts like (cutting events), we're only preventing the South-east Asian level of athletics from rising up to the world's level.

SOH RUI YONG, 2015 SEA Games men's marathon winner, on the potential ramifications of excluding some events.

There is some truth in what Low said. At the Singapore Games last June, events such as the women's 400m hurdles and women's pole vault each had just four entries from three countries. Singaporeans Dipna Lim-Prasad and Rachel Yang won silvers in the 400m hurdles and pole vault respectively.

The events that could be excluded at the next Games, however, enjoyed healthy participation.

There were 12 entries from seven countries in the men's marathon, while 10 women from six countries competed in the women's event.

Similarly in the 10,000m event, nine men from six countries took part while seven women from five countries competed in the women's category. Even in the women's 3,000m steeplechase, there were nine entries from six countries.

Perhaps more peculiar is the fact there were no Malaysian athletes in these events. Malaysian Ahmad Luth Hamizan finished fourth in the men's 3,000m steeplechase.

Low, who admitted Malaysia's performance is an important factor, said: "We're just trying to make this a more meaningful, impactful and compact Games, rather than just doing it for the sake of doing it."

Reigning marathon champion Soh said he is not losing sleep over the possible exclusion of the marathon, but felt it is pertinent to look at the big picture.

He said: "If the marathon is really left out, life goes on and I'll just pick another marathon to focus on. My main focus is to peak for the 2020 Olympic Games and show that the rest of South-east Asia - not just Singapore - belong at that level.

"Maybe that can go some way in tackling all this 'kampong bickering', because by pulling stunts like (cutting events), we're only preventing the South-east Asian level of athletics from rising up to the world's level."

Mok, the 2013 champion, has started an online petition for the marathon to be included. It has had more than 200 signatures so far.

The decision, however, is not final. Appeals and discussions are expected to follow before the athletics events are finalised in July. Said Low: "The list (of events) is by no means complete. We will take in each and every appeal."

The OCM has also culled canoeing, fencing, bodybuilding, judo and triathlon to a shortlist of 34 sports. The list of sports for the Games will be finalised in June.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 21, 2016, with the headline 'ATHLETICS EVENTS FACE AXE'. Print Edition | Subscribe