He had a strained thigh muscle, was nursing a persistent cough and had endured a tiring six-hour drive from Yangon barely 12 hours before. But all that was not enough to stop Mok Ying Ren from becoming the first Singaporean man to strike Gold at the SEA Games Marathon event on Monday (16 December) morning.
No Personal Best
Striding into the Wunna Theikdi Stadium in Nay Pyi Taw with a confident smile plastered across his face, the 25-year-old registered a time of 2 hours 28 minutes 36 seconds - two minutes off his personal best - to finish ahead of Myanmar's Thaung Aye (2:29:50) and Philippines' Eric Panique (2:30:53). It is Singapore's first marathon Gold medal since the 1983 Games. "I didn't expect to win," confessed Mok, a medical doctor currently doing his national service. "My build-up to this race wasn't the best, and I didn't really have a good rest."
Having only arrived in Nay Pyi Taw the day before, Mok's less-than-ideal preparations looked to have doomed his chances of winning. As the gruelling 42km race wound down to its final lap, he was fourth and a good way off early pace-setter Nikolas Albinus Sila of Indonesia. But a thrilling finale saw him overtake the flagging Indonesian in the final 5km, before powering past Thaung with 1.5km left.
Embracing his beaming parents after draping the Singapore flag on his back, Mok revealed how he had ran a tactical race. "It was a tough route - the ground was mostly concrete and the terrain had lots of rolling hills," he said. "And even though I saw some of my rivals pulling away with 12km left to go, I held back as I thought I was only good for Bronze. But then I saw them getting fatigued, so I summoned my last reserves and went for it."
Still looking fresh and fit even after running the race of his life, Mok made no secret of his desire to use his SEA Games victory as a "stepping stone" in a bid to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. For now, though, he is content to bask in the glory of being Southeast Asia's best long distance runner.
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