Mystery marathon 'winner' just wanted T-shirt and medal

Yesterday, the pastry chef said he never thought this would cause problems. -- ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, ASHLEIGH SIM
Yesterday, the pastry chef said he never thought this would cause problems. -- ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, ASHLEIGH SIM
Mr Tam crossing the finishing line after taking a short cut on Sunday. -- ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, ASHLEIGH SIM

Pastry chef Tam Chua Puh admitted yesterday that he took a short cut in last Sunday's marathon, but said he never meant to be the first Singaporean to cross the finishing line.

When the unknown beat SEA Games-bound marathoner Mok Ying Ren to the top spot, it caused a two-hour delay as officials scrambled to check.

Mr Tam, 43, who ran barely 6km of the 42.195km route, told The Straits Times yesterday that he did not mean to cause any trouble. All he wanted was the finisher's T-shirt and medal.

In fact, he also admitted, he had done the same thing in two previous marathons, but was disqualified both years.

"I am sorry if I offended anyone. I never thought I would create so much inconvenience for the organisers," he said.

His explanation came three days after the controversy over his finishing time of 2hr 46min 57sec, well ahead of all the best Singaporean racers.

Emcees at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore initially declared him the winner of the Singapore men's category, before he was disqualified for missing all but one of the race checkpoints.

Racer Mok was then crowned the winner with a time of 2hr 54min 17sec.

Yesterday, Mr Tam said he had lasted only about 6km of the race and gave up because his left knee ached.

"I stopped at the Esplanade because my knee was too sore. I got hit by a car when I was 12, and my knee hasn't been okay since," he said.

But he was determined to collect his T-shirt and medal.

"After resting at the bus stop, I made my way back to the finishing line. I saw some Kenyans run past, and I thought I saw some local runners run past too, so I assumed it was safe to return to the race. I didn't expect to be the first Singaporean to finish."

The runners he spotted going past were the leading foreigners.

Mr Tam said he finished the 2011 and 2012 races the same way. Both times, he covered about 19km before giving up. Each time, he approached the medical vans and got a ride to the end point, where he resumed running and crossed the finishing line.

Asked if he did not think that was cheating, he said: "It never crossed my mind. Having signed up for the marathon, I just wanted to cross the finishing line."

Before last Sunday's race, he was issued a red bib, for runners expected to finish in more than five hours.

Married with one child, he said he picked up running in 2011 and runs mostly on weekends, 1km each time.

He seemed perplexed to be asked what possessed him to do what he did in the race.

"I never thought about going home midway. It would have been like giving up. I like running because I love nature, and I enjoy looking at the sights along the way. Winning never crossed my mind."

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