SINGAPORE - The Republic's top marathoner Soh Rui Yong on Thursday (Sept 9) issued an open challenge to any Singaporean who can run the 2.4km in under seven minutes, offering a $700 cash reward and 700 bottles of sports drink to each, out of his own pocket.
The 30-year-old two-time SEA Games champion threw the gauntlet down after he completed a 2.4km run in 6min 53.18sec at the Pocari Sweat Singapore 2.4km Challenge on Saturday (Sept 4) and his effort drew a mix of reactions.
Following his run, Pocari Sweat had posted on its social media account that Soh and Vanessa Lee, who ran a 7:59.69, had set the "benchmark" as the only Singaporean man and woman to run the 2.4km below seven and eight minutes, respectively.
The event was officiated by national track and field body Singapore Athletics.
There is no official record for the 2.4km as it is not an Olympic event, but the distance is one familiar to many Singaporeans as it is part of the individual physical proficiency test (IPPT) and National Physical Fitness Award (Napfa) test for students.
His time and achievement, Soh told The Straits Times, drew two types of reactions. Most were encouraging, but some poured scorn.
"Singaporeans can identify with how tough a 2.4km is and it's very relatable," he said.
"But at the same time, because the 2.4km is something that almost everybody in the country has done, you tend to get myths and stories that grow over time.
"We all have that friend who likes to brag, to say he plays soccer or basketball or runs damn well, but there (often) isn't any proof."
On Wednesday, Soh shared his split times per 400m lap for the sub-7 minute effort on Facebook and wrote, "Somehow, some people still think their 'army/commando bmt mate who smokes' ran faster" along with a clown emoji.
This drew the ire of some netizens, including one whose profile states he is a former Special Forces officer with the Singapore Commandos, chiding Soh for his post.
"There are so many national athletes, NDU (Naval Diving Unit) divers, Commandos and SOF (Special Operations Force) chaps," wrote user Ricky Wee in a comment.
"No one say (sic) anything doesn't mean there isn't any (who has not done it). It only means they are humble and see no need to show (off)."
Soh said he noted the comments and wondered whether or not to respond, and how. Over breakfast on Thursday morning, he came up with the Open Challenge.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, he clarified that his previous comment was "not targeted at Commandos specifically", and that he had the utmost respect for their military training.
He added: "I certainly would not claim to be capable of everything they do, since I never received Commando training.
"Similarly, the Commandos would not be capable of running performances that even Singapore's best distance runners have been incapable of."
As a "gesture of goodwill" and a way to "settle the debate once and for all", Soh then said he would offer an incentive of $700 and 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat - which sponsors him - to any Singaporean who runs under seven minutes at the Pocari Sweat Singapore 2.4km Run event on Oct 9-10.
"They have one month to train," he quipped.
More pressing for Soh, however, is his attempt to qualify for the 2022 Asian Games on Saturday evening at the Home of Athletics. He will race in a 10,000m time trial, and hopes to make the qualifying benchmark of 31min 28sec.
He holds the national record of 31:15.95, which he clocked at the Portland Track Festival in Oregon in 2014.
"The estimation in the 10k is that you lose 30 seconds due to the (warm, humid) weather," he said. "So if I run a 31:15 it would show that I've improved a lot over the years.
"The qualifying window just opened at the start of the month, and I've trained for the event, I'm in shape, and I'm prepared for the worst-case scenario (with weather and other variables). So why not try?"