Golden run can overtake doubts Soh Rui Yong is Singaporean

The fourth of a five-part series on Singaporeans making their SEA Games debut

HE WAS in the express queue for Singapore citizens when an immigration officer at Changi Airport stopped him to check that he was in the right queue, perhaps mistaking him for a foreigner - Korean, maybe Japanese.

But contrary to what his sharp nose and pronounced jaw-line may suggest, Soh Rui Yong is most definitely Singaporean.

And while the 23-year-old, United States-based distance runner may not be easily recognisable to most Singaporeans, that could change by this weekend.

For Soh is aiming to become one of the country's champions when he takes part in his first SEA Games marathon and 10,000m.

Even though he is making his Games debut and it will be only his second competitive marathon, all eyes are on him to defend Singapore's gold in the 42km race.

Such expectation stems from his result in his competitive debut at the California International Marathon last December, when he clocked the second-fastest time by a Singaporean (2hr 26min 1sec).

The timing would have earned him a marathon gold at the 2013 Games in Naypyitaw, where compatriot Mok Ying Ren was triumphant in 2:28:36.

With Mok sidelined through injury, the focus is on Soh to continue Singapore's golden run in the event.

Said Soh: "I don't feel pressure because I really have nothing to prove and nothing to lose.

"I'm just going to go out there and make it count for the best."

The Sport Singapore scholar has taken pains to prepare for his first marathon in a tropical climate.

"I did my research and it showed that acclimatisation back to a hot and humid weather takes anywhere between seven and 14 days, which is why I was back 21/2 weeks in advance," he explained yesterday. "I definitely felt the heat on some runs last week.

"There was one session last Thursday when I did 40 minutes close to marathon pace, and I just felt like I was so wiped out.

"But I was running at the hottest time of the morning, at 8.40am. So I told myself, 'Just don't worry'."

Looking ahead, Soh finds himself at a potential crossroads after graduation. Qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics is a big goal, among other pursuits.

He said: "I have to weigh my options and figure out what I want to do. To be the best runner in the world, you have to fully devote yourself to the pursuit.

"In order to do that, you need to be supported financially.

"I don't need much to survive but I do need basic food and amenities."

For now, though, Soh's focus is on the 42km race on Sunday.

A marathon triumph on home soil would definitely cement his status as one of the best runners this country has produced.

Then, maybe, no one will mistake him for being a foreigner any more.

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