While other runners could celebrate with their friends, be greeted by their schoolmates' familiar faces and cheered by boisterous flag-bearing contingents after crossing the finish line, all Syed Hussein Aljunied received was polite applause and a hug from his mother Fairuz.
None of his mates from Pasir Ris Secondary were present at the Schools National Cross-Country Championships yesterday, as he was his school's sole representative.
Not that the Secondary 4 student needed any further support during yesterday's 4.6km race at Bedok Reservoir. The 16-year-old led from start to finish to become No. 1, clinching the B Division boys' crown effortlessly in 16min 1.66sec.
Guangyang Secondary's Ruben Loganathan (16:11.26) and Hwa Chong Institution's Er Wen Han (16:19.45) were second and third respectively.
Said a thrilled Syed Hussein: "This is the main event for cross-country. It's my first (Schools) National win and I hope there's more to come."
He almost did not get to compete. As Pasir Ris Secondary does not offer track and field or cross-country as a co-curricular activity (CCA), his parents had to submit a request to the school in late 2013 to allow an exception to be made for him.
List of winners
Team - Boys: Anglo-Chinese School (Independent). Girls: Victoria Junior College. Individual - Boys (4.6km): Isaac Tan (ACS(I)) 16min 15.07sec. Girls (3.65km): Nicole Low (VJC) 13:46.33.
Team - Boys: Guangyang Secondary. Girls: Cedar Girls' School. Individual - Boys (4.6km): Syed Hussein Aljunied (Pasir Ris Secondary) 16:01.66. Girls (3.65km): Sharifah Hannah (Bedok South Secondary) 11:44.20.
Team - Boys: ACS(I). Girls: CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School. Individual - Boys (3.65km): Gabriel Ng (ACS(I)) 12:54.70. Girls (3.65km): Elizabeth Liau (SNGS) 15:27.30.
His father Negaib then took him to Ghana Segaran, the national coach for middle- and long-distance running.
Under Ghana, Syed Hussein trains every day except Monday with a group of about 10 runners, all of whom are older than him, at various locations including the Kallang Practice Track and MacRitchie Reservoir in the evenings.
Sometimes, he also has to train alone. But that is not necessarily a handicap.
Said Syed Hussein: "I need to push hard by myself. Probably that's why no one pushes me on during races and I can depend on myself and not on others."
His quest for glory suffered a setback last year, where he fell and failed to complete the race.
Said Syed Hussein, whose older brother is in National Service: "When I fell last year, I told myself that I am going to get up, come back this year and win it."
The victory secured an incredible hat-trick of titles for him in just two months. He also won the Singapore Athletics Cross-Country Championships and the Wings Championships last month.
Ghana believes that his 1.81m-tall, 54-kg charge has the potential to go faster and stronger.
Said the 62-year-old: "I have not done strength and weights training with him yet, because it's not the right time. He is still growing. But if you map that out for him when he turns 18, he will become stronger.
"You can see his strides and his physique now, he flies through the course. And it's natural that he will be knocking on the doors of the national team as time passes."
Pasir Ris teacher Ow Kok Meng, who had helped process Syed Hussein's application to represent the school, marvelled at his student's feat.
He said: "It's an unprecedented achievement for the school. In running, it's harder to be the winner because there are so many schools that are represented."
In fact, Syed Hussein's time yesterday was even faster than that of A boys' champion Isaac Tan of Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) (16:15.07).
Exhaustion almost cost Isaac his victory though, when the Year 5 student stopped to rest on a railing with just metres left to the finish line. But after being encouraged by spectators, he gamely made his way to the end.
Said Isaac with a laugh after the race: "I felt like dying already, I couldn't think or hear anything at that point."