SINGAPORE - It was one of the feel-good stories of the 2015 SEA Games. A tale of sportsmanship that garnered an international accolade, praise from ministers and the public, and special recognition from the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC).
But on Sunday (Oct 21), one of the nation's leading distance runners, Soh Rui Yong, alleged that teammate Ashley Liew's version of events surrounding the 2015 SEA Games marathon is "simply not true".
Liew did not reply to queries from The Straits Times but his management company ONEathlete insisted that "there is no material basis in Soh's allegations that warrants any further comments".
At the Games that year, which took place in Singapore, Liew had found himself with a 50m lead after the 12 other runners missed a U-turn and took the wrong route.
But instead of capitalising on his advantage, he slowed down to give his rivals time to catch up. He eventually finished eighth while Soh won the race.
Liew's actions earned him the International Fair Play Committee's (CIFP) Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy the following year. Past recipients of the award, which honours acts of fair play by sportsmen or teams, include English football icon Stanley Matthews, Swedish tennis great Mats Wilander and Ukraine pole vault legend Sergey Bubka.
Soh reacted after the CIFP had put up a Facebook post on Oct 13 hailing Liew, 31, as a role model for fair play.
Describing what had happened during the race, the CIFB wrote: "Instead of taking advantage of his lead, the Singaporean decided to wait for his rivals. Liew's act of fair play probably cost him a medal as he eventually finished eighth with 2hr 44min 02sec while his personal best was 2:32:12."
In a comment on the post on Sunday, however, Soh alleged that the story was "untrue" and claimed that Liew "certainly did not stop or slow down to wait for us whatsoever".
He said: "As for missing a medal because of this act - Ashley gained maximum 20-30 seconds when the leaders ran an extra 100m due to the wrong turn. He finished eighth in 2:44:02, while bronze on the day was 2:37:10 (6min and 52sec behind). Saying that this act cost him a medal is disrespectful to the efforts of the bronze medalist of the day, Hoang Nguyen Thanh of Vietnam.
"I didn't say anything about this three years ago because I figured a teammate of mine just had a bad race and needed something to feel better about his performance. But this fictional version of events that transpired that day has been repeated and published time and time again over the past three years. While making a good story, it is simply not true, and I think it's time to stop living in imagination."
Both the SNOC and ONEathlete said they were standing by Liew.
A spokesman for the SNOC said: "We are proud of Ashley Liew and gratified that his act of sportsmanship, which was verified, has earned his recognition on the world stage by the International Fair Play Committee."
It added that the 2016 special award it gave him for his act of sportsmanship at the Games is "an accolade which we remain proud to have given him".
ONE athlete added: "Soh is entitled to his opinions. We stand by our athlete, Ashley, and the decision by SNOC and the International Committee for Fairplay to nominate and confer Ashley the Fair Play Trophy award."