I usually avoid getting involved in Singapore Athletics’ selection criteria for any major games and refrain from publicly confronting another Singaporean athlete. However, in light of the recent interviews given by marathoner Soh Rui Yong with regards to the wild card selection criteria for the Olympics and other athletes in contention, I feel the need to speak up and share my thoughts as a fellow national athlete on this issue.
These articles can also be found here: TODAY paper, Straits Times
I set out below several statements which the press had quoted from Rui Yong’s interview.
Wild Card Selection Criteria
Rui Yong – “There should be a better criteria. It is not holistic — only considering one factor which is national records, but not (performance at) major competitions, or which athletes go closest to the (Olympic) standards.”
“The way the wild card is being used is completely senseless. We have many national record-setters but only a few SEA Games gold medallists over the last 10, 20 years. The whole thing is just a mess.”
The selection criteria adopted by Singapore Athletics may not be perfect, but it was discussed and decided upon more than 6 months ago and made known to all athletes and the public. Athletes have been working hard to qualify based on these criteria. Poking holes at the criteria just 6 weeks before the games, is hardly the best time and perhaps a more opportune time would be to do so during the post-games. I feel that Singapore Athletics has been extremely supportive of all our racing endeavours for the past 4 years especially for those who were chasing the Olympic dream. Though there may be some issues which could be better managed, I think overall it has been a good job done by the association. I am sure they will continue to work on it and improve the process.
Lack of respect for fellow Athletes
Rui Yong – “Edmund [national race walker] is chopping minutes off his record because he is the first competitive race-walker, which is great for Singapore. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that breaking a national record by one or two minutes mean you are good enough to compete on the world stage.”
“Why are we wasting this opportunity to give someone an experience that will be valuable to their future development?”
Rui Yong has great potential in distance running. However, no matter how well he or any other athlete is performing, I firmly believe it does not give them the right to belittle the achievements of others and judge their potential. Both Edmund Sim (national race walker) and Ang Cheng Xiang (National hurdler) have brought their respective disciplines to a level previously unattained by any Singaporean by setting new national records within the past year. With the experience of racing at the Olympics, it might just be the spark needed to bring them to the next level. Instead of playing down the performances of other athletes, we should always look to support our fellow national athletes and at the same time, use them as an inspiration to drive ourselves to greater heights.
Choosing based on being closest to the Olympic Standards
Rui Yong – “There should be a better criteria. It is not holistic — only considering one factor which is national records, but not (performance at) major competitions, or which athletes go closest to the (Olympic) standards,” said the marathoner, whose personal best of 2:26.01 is still shy of the 2:19 needed to qualify.
It is true that solely taking into account a national record without considering how close the athlete is to the Olympic qualifying mark does not make the selection criteria a “holistic” one. Going with Rui Yong’s suggestion may make it more holistic, but even that does not put him ahead as the best candidate given the circumstances under which he ran his personal best of 2hr 26min 01sec.
Firstly, this race which Rui Yong completed in December 2014 lies outside the Olympic qualifying window of 1st January 2015 to 11 July 2016 as stipulated by the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF.
Secondly, this time was clocked on a downhill course which is ineligible for consideration of an Olympic spot.
To those who are unfamiliar with marathon running, the International Association of Athletics Federations has rules which detail what is required in a marathon course in order for the times clocked in that particular marathon course to be eligible for official national records and Olympic qualification. The California International Marathon in which Rui Yong ran in December 2014, and clocked his personal best of 2:26:01 was not a marathon course which was considered as “legal” in accordance with the IAAF rules.
In order for a marathon course to be “legal” and for the times clocked in that marathon to be eligible for national records or Olympic qualification, the IAAF rules state that the elevation drop of the marathon course has to be less than 1m per km (http://aimsworldrunning.org/IAAF_rule_260.28.htm). The California International Marathon, however, had an elevation drop of 103m for the entire marathon (refer to the course map above), which works out to be 2.45m per km. To better understand the advantage of running a downhill marathon, just ask yourself if you prefer running uphill or downhill and you will easily understand the impact of such a marathon course.
I feel that it is also important to clarify this issue as this result has also often been regarded as the second fastest marathon ever run by a Singaporean in history, which is not entirely accurate.
Therefore, his personal best should not come under consideration for the wildcard selection for the marathon event for the above reasons. Instead his time of 2:34.56 set in June 2015 should be used and that would put him as the 3rd fastest marathon runner, behind Ashley (2:32.12) and myself (2:27.02) within the qualifying period. In essence, Rui Yong’s official best time on a “legal” marathon course is no closer to the Olympic standard than many other Singaporean Athletes in contrast to what he suggests.
Rui Yong – “If you are going to say national record breaker and SEA Games gold medallists, I am the only one.”
Statements like the above are inaccurate but I would like to believe that Rui Yong has been misquoted.
Injury-free Athletes should represent Singapore with the Wild Card
Rui Yong – “I’ve made more progress in one month (with Whetstine) than the last half year combined. It’s a good step forward. That being said, until my foot condition stabilises, I don’t want to take the risk of putting it through another marathon.”
The athlete chosen to represent Singapore at the Olympics should most importantly be injury-free and able to produce his best performance on the race day at the Olympics. Rui Yong says that he was finally able to run pain-free only 3 days ago and he does not want to risk his injury flaring up by running the Gold Coast marathon in July. Yet, he asks that Singapore Athletics take a gamble in hope that he will be fully recovered and ready to perform at the Olympics in August. I do not think this would be fair to the other athletes who have gone through alot to make sure they are in tip-top shape all year round.
Making a wild card selection is never easy for Singapore Athletics given the pool of athletes across very different disciplines. As athletes vie for this spot, it is important to ensure transparency of information and uphold sportsmanship throughout the selection process.
Rui Yong has always been a strong and brave contender in the marathon and he has my utmost respect in this aspect. I strongly believe that with his talent and tenacity, he has the potential to go very far in this event and push it to the next level. However i feel that everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves, whether it the Singapore Athletics or other national athletes; and we Singaporeans should always look to be constructive and supportive of their endeavours.