Soh makes a run for Rio games

Soh makes a run for Rio games
Singapore's Soh Rui Yong celebrates as he approaches the finishing line to win the Men's Marathon in the 28th SEA Games on 7 June 2015.

When Soh Rui Yong started running, he had three goals - break a national record, win a SEA Games gold and qualify for the Olympics.

In less than 12 months, he crossed two of those targets off his list.

For the past year, it has been milestone after milestone for the runner, starting from June 15 last year when he broke P.C Suppiah's 41-year-old national 10,000m record.

Soh clocked 31min 15.95sec, faster than Suppiah's 31:19.0.

Two weeks ago, he won the marathon gold at the SEA Games - on his Games debut, and in only his second marathon, no less.

Now, the 23-year-old hopes his third marathon will take him to the city of Rio de Janeiro, and into the city's fabled Sambadrome, the official marathon venue of the 2016 Olympics.

The University of Oregon student told The Straits Times yesterday that he will embark on full-time training after he graduates in December to chase his third goal.

Said Soh, who left for the United States this morning: "Competing at the Olympics is the ultimate dream for most athletes.

"It's the pinnacle of sport and you're competing against the best in the world.

"It will be a great honour."

His belief is strengthened by his triumph at the SEA Games, where he battled a heavy downpour and rain-soaked shoes to win Singapore's second men's marathon gold after Mok Ying Ren's triumph in 2013.

But belief alone is not enough.

To qualify for the Olympics, Soh also needs to shave more than nine minutes off his personal best time of 2hr 26min 1sec, clocked last December on his marathon debut at the California International Marathon.

The entry standard is 2:17:00, which is much faster than the current national record of 2:24:22, set by Murugiah Rameshon in 1995.

Each country can send three runners who meet the cut-off.

Mok, who is currently training full-time in the US, is also trying to meet the mark.

Said Soh, who won the SEA Games gold in 2:34:56: "Even though my winning time wasn't good, fitness-wise, I know I'm currently at 2:22:00 level.

"Cutting off five minutes is very doable. I know if I keep training hard and stay injury-free, I can do it."

Another stumbling block is cost. Soh, a Sport Singapore scholarship holder, intends to undergo high-altitude training at Flagstaff, Arizona, which is 2,130m above sea level. There, he will try to qualify for the Olympics by May.

He estimates he would need to raise at least $20,000, including airfare, accommodation and race registration fees, to make the training stint a reality.

Said Soh: "If you want to run against the best guys, you have to prepare like them. I don't believe in asking money from my parents although they've been very supportive. Ultimately, I'm responsible for chasing my own dreams.

"I'm trying to work something out with Singapore Athletics."

Whether he meets the mark or not, Soh is certain he is in for an exciting ride.

He said: "To qualify, I'd definitely need to hit the national record.

"It's also about seeing how fast a Singaporean can go in the marathon, about setting the bar higher and higher."

A trying 11 months lie ahead.

And Soh knows there is only one way to embrace it.

That is to run. Fast.

This article was first published on June 19, 2015.
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