In his first marathon last December, he ran the second-fastest time ever by a Singaporean.
Yesterday, in his second, Soh Rui Yong showed that his debut was no fluke by bagging the coveted SEA Games men's marathon gold with an electrifying finish at the Kallang Practice Track.
After 2hr 34min 56sec, he rose above the torrential rain, unforgiving wind and soggy track shoes to sprint past Thailand's Srisung Boonthung in the final 200m.
As Soh's strides widened near the end, Srisung faded. The crowd, who had braved the rain, shouted encouragement as the Singaporean crossed the finish line and waved to them in celebration.
Soh, who turns 24 today, said: "When we got to the track, (Srisung) made a surge, but I was quite surprised because it wasn't vicious. He wasn't getting much faster. With 300m to go, I thought I saw him stumble around the cones and thought, 'All right, he's done'.
"I ran up next to him, gave him a stare and went hard. I got to 100m to go, looked back and he wasn't there. That was really the first time in the whole race that I thought, 'I could win the race'."
Srisung crossed the finish line 13 seconds later, in 2:35:09, while Vietnam's Hoang Nguyen Thanh took the bronze in 2:37:10.
Soh's victory means that Singapore retain the men's marathon SEA Games title. At the last SEA Games in Myanmar, Mok Ying Ren became the first Singaporean man to clinch the marathon gold.
Mok was unable to defend his gold this time because of injury, but Soh was no last-minute substitute. His qualifying time of 2:26:01 is second only to Murugiah Rameshon's 1995 national record of 2:24:22.
Yesterday's thrilling victory also proved Soh's tactical intelligence as much as it did his stamina, as the weather conditions forced the US-based runner to focus more on his rivals' positions.
He explained: "It was my first time running a tactical marathon. Everything was about position. No one cared about time.
"I had to think a lot more and react to other people rather than just doing my own race."
Strategy came into play at the 21km mark, when he caught up with Srisung.
"He looked very relaxed. He was waving to his friends, having a good time," said Soh. "I knew I needed to do one of two things - either go hard very early to try to drop him or wait until the track to try to outsprint him."
"I'm lucky that my plan worked out, which was not to make any big moves until 32km," said Soh, who dedicated the win to team-mate Dipna Lim-Prasad, whose birthday fell yesterday.
"If there was one mistake I made, it was probably at 26km when I went to the front to push the pace. Immediately I went back, and I was lucky it didn't destroy me."
Thankfully, the downpour was nothing new for the University of Oregan student. "In Oregon, it rains all the time. I train in the rain. It's my element," he said.
Also in her element was Thailand's Thanaronnawat Natthaya who clocked 3:03:25 in the women's marathon to win gold. The Philippines' Tabal Mary Joy was second with 3:04:39 while Vietnam's Hoang Thi Thanh came in third in 3:07:14. Singapore's Rachel See (3:18:14) and Neo Jie Shi (3:35:54) finished in sixth and eighth respectively.
Singapore's Ashley Liew finished eighth in the marathon, clocking 2:44:02. He battled severe hamstring cramps, and had to stop completely at one point.
"I gave my best in the circumstances. Mum would have been proud," said Liew, whose mother died in 2010 after being diagnosed with late-stage cancer.
Soh could earn another medal as he is pencilled in for Wednesday's 10,000m, a distance in which he is the national record holder. Could there be another gold? It would be foolish to doubt a man clearly in his element.
This article was first published on June 08, 2015.
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