'Technical issue' to blame

SINGAPORE- It was his first podium finish in six tries. But what Alex Ong thought would be his moment of glory turned into a nightmare on Sunday. That was when he learnt he had been disqualified in the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore (SCMS).

But yesterday, Ong, who had completed the 42.195km race in 2hr 54min 57sec - approximately 40 seconds behind local men's winner Mok Ying Ren, got the reprieve he was looking for.

At 5pm, he was informed by event organiser Spectrum Worldwide that his appeal against disqualification had been successful and that he had been reinstated to second place, a position worth $5,000.

"I'm very heartened by the news," said the 26-year-old trainee teacher. "But while I'm pleased that the matter has been resolved, I'm still a little disappointed to have missed out on my first podium finish in six tries."

He was not the only victim of what Spectrum called a "technical issue with the official timing system", which resulted in him and a substantial number of other participants being disqualified.

Derek Li, another seasoned local runner, also fell victim to the technical glitch. He too said he had been told by Spectrum that his sixth-place finish and time of 3:06.21 would stand.

"I'm more relieved than happy," the 31-year-old doctor, who earned $1,000 for his efforts, said. "I trained really hard for this race and while it wasn't my best result, it would have been very disappointing to end the year with a disqualification."

Ong, agreed, noting that "it's not about the prize money".

"I just want the validation that I ran a good race," he said. "No runner - professional or amateur - likes to see the word 'disqualified' next to their name."

The Straits Times understands that the timing mats placed at various checkpoints along the race route did not manage to record the timing of every participant.

According to a statement issued by Spectrum last night, a third appeal - understood to involve a runner in the 10km category - was also received.

"As there is prize money involved, the event organisers are reviewing all evidence including video footage, official event photography and eyewitness accounts," a spokesman said.

"(This is) to ensure that there are good grounds for the rulings on each appeal."

It has proven to be a bumpy first ride for Spectrum, which has handled route, venue and volunteer management since 2007 but was awarded full rights to the race's organisation four months ago.

The Singapore-based company is also the organiser of the five-year-old OCBC Cycle, the country's largest cycling event.

Spectrum said that it was "sorry for the confusion caused and appreciates everyone's patience and understanding".

With the race having been awarded Gold Label status by the International Association of Athletics Federations, putting it alongside other illustrious events like the London and Berlin marathons, more had been expected.

It also did not help that registration fees this year rose to between $65 and $95 - an increase of $10 from 2012.

Since Sunday, the race's Facebook page has attracted over 300 comments from participants, ranging from the problem with timings to the merging of all three major race categories near the end.

No sign of mystery man who 'finished' before Mok

For most of the 42.195km race, Singapore's top marathoner Mok Ying Ren led the pack of Singapore men, with runners Soon Suan Boon and Alex Ong keeping pace.

So imagine their surprise when they heard the name Tam Chua Puh being bandied about as the winner of the local men's category at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore.

"I had never heard of him before," said the 27-year-old Soon, a regular on the local running circuit for over seven years. "I don't even know what he looks like."

Even more astonishing was that Tam was said to have crossed the finishing line in 2hr 46min 57sec - some seven minutes ahead of Mok.

The mystery deepened when, after a two-hour delay, Mok was announced as the winner of the category.

Event organiser Spectrum Worldwide yesterday confirmed that Tam had been disqualified after investigations were carried out and "revealed discrepancies with his various split times".

"Tam did not launch an appeal following the disqualification and Mok was subsequently confirmed as the official winner of the category," a spokesman for Spectrum told The Straits Times.

According to official results, Tam was also disqualified in the 2011 Singapore marathon, when he ran in the 40-49 age group.

Attempts to contact him through his mobile phone and e-mail have been unsuccessful.

According to the event's live tracking service, he took 58:46 to reach the 5km mark - the only checkpoint he registered at.

Based on the time at which he crossed the finishing line, he would have completed the remaining 37.195km in 1:48:11, or at a pace of 2:55 per kilometre.

To put that figure into perspective, Kenya's Luka Chelimo Kipkemboi won the Men's Open race with an average split of 3:12.

"It's definitely not possible," Ivan Low, who has been competing regularly in distance running events since 2011, said of Tam's supposed feat.

Soon, one of several seasoned local participants who ran most of the race alongside Mok, agreed.

"The first few Singaporeans were running in a close pack," recalled the third local finisher.

"We were all sure that Mok was the first to come in.

"At no point of the race was Tam on our radar."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.