Neo set to get a coach at last

Neo Jie Shi (right)

Athletics body to appoint one for self-guided marathoner to help her prepare for Olympics

Both national governing body and athlete might still be coming to terms with the unexpected but welcome surprise, but no time will be wasted in getting local long-distance runner Neo Jie Shi ready for the Rio Olympics in August.

Top officials from Singapore Athletics (SA) are expected to meet today to appoint a coach from a shortlist of three - all of whom are local - to guide the 30-year-old as she prepares to compete in the marathon.

In collaboration with the Singapore Sports Institute, laboratory tests will also be conducted for the self-declared "regular runner" to obtain data such as VO2 max, which is an athlete's maximum rate of oxygen consumption that indicates the endurance athlete's potential, in order to come up with the most suitable training plan for her.

Said SA vice-president (training and selection) C. Kunalan: "We're not thinking of plans to cut 20 minutes off of Jie Shi's marathon time. We have to be realistic and we need these data to plan accordingly."

He was speaking on the sidelines of an event yesterday to unveil Neo as Pocari Sweat's latest ambassador.

The Japanese isotonic drink, which also sponsors marathoner Mok Ying Ren, will extend support in the lead-up to the Olympics, possibly in the form of covering expenses for training and competing overseas, or by linking Neo up with Japanese marathoners also supported by the brand.

Neo qualified for Rio after finishing 10th in the women's Open category at last month's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore with a time of 3hr 15min 06sec.

Her time met the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) qualification standard for the Olympics, which states that the top-10 finishers at IAAF Gold Label Marathons within the qualifying period are considered to have also achieved entry standards.

This is in spite of the fact that Neo's time is some way off the qualifying mark of 2:42:00.

Nevertheless, she will be the first woman to represent Singapore in the marathon at the Olympics since Yvonne Danson at the 1996 Games.

Said Neo, who starting running while in university in a bid to get fit and admitted she did not even know about the qualifying standard: "It's like a dream that's too good to be true.

"There are definitely runners better than me out there, but things just worked out for me and I think I'm very fortunate."

Having been self-coached all these years while she ran with a local running club, Neo - whose personal best is 3:09:57 at last year's Hong Kong marathon - is well aware the months ahead could be starkly different from what she has been used to.

There is the possibility of training full-time, even though the assistant manager in human resources and administration is planning to continue working for now.

She is scheduled to run the Seoul Marathon in March.

She said: "Competing at the SEA Games was already something big for me. It gave me the opportunity to represent Singapore and I was very honoured to do so.

"Hopefully, I'll get a personal best out of Rio. This is an opportunity that I really treasure. I'll go there to learn as much as I can from elite runners, embrace the racing experience and enjoy every moment."

This article was first published on JAN 20, 2016.
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