Runner left in limbo over Kenya deadline

Thiruben Thana Rajan (right) is congratulated by a rival after completing the 400m at the Singapore Open last month.
Thiruben Thana Rajan (right) is congratulated by a rival after completing the 400m at the Singapore Open last month. PHOTO: SINGAPORE SPORTS HUB

Teen record holder puzzled by SA's silence as participation in world meet hit by uncertainty

Singapore 400m runner Thiruben Thana Rajan's euphoria after qualifying for July's International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Under-18 Championships is fast turning into disappointment and confusion.

With less than two months to go to the prestigious biennial competition, the 16-year-old said he has not received any confirmation from Singapore Athletics (SA) about whether it is sending him to the event in Nairobi, Kenya.

Adding to his frustration is that the July 12-16 world youth meet clashes with the July 14-20 Asean School Games (ASG), an event which the National Junior College student has been selected for and which Singapore is hosting.

The deadline for him to respond to ASG organisers has passed - it was May 15 - while the entry deadline for the U-18 championships is June 26.

Thiruben, who is coached by SA vice-president (competitions organising) Loh Chan Pew, qualified for the world U-18 championships after he clocked 48.77sec at the Singapore U-18 & U-20 Athletics Championships on March 4.

The qualifying time was 49.1sec. He also broke S. Pandian's 1985 national U-18 mark of 49.40sec.

Thiruben said: "I haven't heard from SA since qualifying. I've been dreaming about competing in big meets like the world youth championships so it'll be quite devastating to miss out, especially since it's a rare chance to run against potential Olympic champions and world record holders.

"The situation is frustrating. I've not been able to confirm with the ASG organisers but I think my teacher in charge will write in to them.

"I don't know why SA is taking so long but I need at least three weeks' notice because I will have to miss classes and will need approval from my school."

Typically, the SA secretariat, headed by general manager Jaime Cheong, submits the nomination of athletes to the management committee for approval. Yesterday, Cheong told The Straits Times Thiruben's paperwork had not been presented yet but said she did not anticipate any problems.

Asked about the two-month delay, she said: "We thought, because of the EOGM (extraordinary general meeting) and all that, maybe we should let the dust settle. We'll be in touch with him. It's not an issue. It's a matter of formality.

"I don't know the submission deadline (right now) but we are not forfeiting his participation. If he is fit and healthy, he will go."

Besides Thiruben, Cheong said a few athletes are also being considered for the world U-18 championships but declined to name them.

The SA leadership has been troubled by internal conflict after president Ho Mun Cheong fell out with several members of the executive committee. This led to a proposed election at an EOGM on May 5, which was later cancelled at the last minute.

About the management turmoil within SA, Thiruben, who credits Loh for his rapid rise, said: "We're athletes so all we can do is train hard and have faith in the management.

"It would definitely have been better to know what my status was earlier but I'll just train and work towards my goals."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Runner left in limbo over Kenya deadline'. Print Edition | Subscribe