SEA Games 2017

Marathon: Row with sponsors fuels Soh's ambition

Malaysian diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri being hoisted up in the air to light the cauldron during the SEA Games opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur last night. The biennial Games were officially opened by the King of Malaysia, Sultan M
Malaysian diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri being hoisted up in the air to light the cauldron during the SEA Games opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur last night. The biennial Games were officially opened by the King of Malaysia, Sultan Muhammad V.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Malaysian diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri being hoisted up in the air to light the cauldron during the SEA Games opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur last night. The biennial Games were officially opened by the King of Malaysia, Sultan M
Nicole Chia

Soh's gamble pays off in last 2km as, despite cramping, he overcomes favourite Agus

His spot at the SEA Games marathon was in jeopardy early last week, after he was embroiled in a tiff over the promotion of his personal sponsors during the Games period.

Yesterday morning, however, Soh Rui Yong put aside the recent controversy, and outlasted his rival Agus Prayogo of Indonesia to retain his marathon gold - the first Singaporean to do so - in front of Putrajaya's Istana Kehakiman, or Palace of Justice.

The 26-year-old clocked 2hr 29min 27sec on a cloudy, 26 deg C morning, running alongside Agus for most of the race before accelerating in the final 2km to clinch the victory.

Agus clocked 2:31:20 for the silver, while Malaysia's Muhaizar Mohamad was third (2:31:52).

Singapore's other male marathon representative, 2013 champion Mok Ying Ren, finished seventh out of 15 competitors with his 2:44:31 effort.

Said Soh: "It feels good (to win again), although the first time felt better, maybe because it was on home ground. Today, I felt a lot better than I thought I would in the heat and humidity."

Just like his 2015 triumph in a rain-drenched race, he executed his race strategy with success, using a final burst of speed to pull away from his rivals.

"In the last 2km I just gambled and went for it," said Soh, who is also the national record-holder for the 10,000m (31:15.95).

"I was already starting to cramp up... but I saw that Agus was struggling a little bit, maybe hurting a little more than I was. So I thought, 'Let me try and gamble a little bit' .

"Within 200m, I had a 30m gap so I was like, 'All right, just gotta keep going till the end.' "

MY IDOL

It kind of hurt my heart ... he's a real inspiration. I don't know why I'm crying. I'm happy I got to race with my idol and got to beat him, but he'll always be a hero to me.

SOH RUI YONG, on beating Indonesia's Agus Prayogo, whom he saw as a buddy instead of a fierce rival.

Another bit of strategy he used to good effect was to cut holes in his vest. He said: "It was really hot and humid, so the less that you're carrying around the better, the more ventilation the better."

It also had the effect he needed on his rivals. He added: "I saw the other runners looking at my holes and it probably played in their mind. When the competition is that stiff, I really needed every advantage, both physically and psychologically."

High-fiving the watching spectators as he sprinted towards the finish line, Soh had to overcome the odds for yesterday's win as Agus' personal best was 2:21:09 - three minutes faster than the Singaporean's best time of 2:24:55.

Tearing up as he described his friendship with Agus, he said: "It kind of hurt my heart ... he's a real inspiration. I don't know why I'm crying. "I'm happy I got to race with my idol and got to beat him, but he'll always be a hero to me."

In the women's race, the top three spots were occupied by Filipino Olympian Mary Joy Tabal (2:48:26), Vietnam's Hoang Thi Thanh (2:55:43) and 2015 gold medallist Natthaya Thanaronnawat of Thailand (2:58:17).

Singapore's Jasmine Goh finished fourth in 3:14:36, while compatriot Rachel See was last of the six runners in 3:46:41.

Nicole Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'A marathon win on repeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe