Monday 13 September 2021

Soh Rui Yong's 2.4km challenge and the Commandos: ‘Never a me vs them scenario’

Well, that escalated quickly.

Maybe even quicker than marathoner Soh Rui Yong running 2.4km in 6 minutes 53.18 seconds.

On Sept 4, the two-time SEA Games gold medallist officially became the first Singaporean to complete the distance in less than 7 minutes.

Is that fast? You may ask.

For reference, in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), if you are younger than 22 years old, you need to run 2.4km in only 8 and a half minutes to get the maximum points. Any faster, you’re just showing off.

Soh wasn’t taking his IPPT, but he isn’t averse to showing off either.

Someone must have said something because last Wednesday, Soh posted his lap splits on social media with the comment:
“Somehow, some people still think their ‘army/commando bmt mate who smokes’ ran faster.”

That comment didn’t go over well with everyone.

So the next day, he posted:
“It has come to my attention that a number of former Singapore Army Commandos are taking offence to the last line of my previous post, and are doubling down on their claims, insisting that a sub 7 minute 2.4km is a common occurrence within the Commandos.”
He continued:
“Firstly, that line, read in context and in entirety, was not targeted at Commandos specifically.

“The point is this. Army 2.4km myths always go something like, ‘last time my friend from BMT/Army/Commandos/NDU/Guards can run (insert magical number here) for 2.4km. Some more ah, he is a smoker.’

“I’m just making reference to those kind of statements.”
Meaning he wasn’t dissing Commandos – he was just calling out the unsubstantiated claims.

To make his point, Soh issued this challenge:
“Any Singaporean who runs sub-7:00 for 2.4km at next month’s Pocari Sweat Singapore 2.4km Run (Ground Race, 9-10 Oct) will receive $700 and 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat, both paid for by me.”

Many responded with the same army joke about their encik’s grandmother.

Soh did not specify whether the bottles of Pocari Sweat would be 500ml or 2 litres, but what the hell is anyone supposed to do with 700 bottles of “ion supply” drink anyway, whatever the size is?

Why Pocari Sweat? Because 30-year-old Soh is its brand ambassador.

But other companies have also jumped on the bandwagon for a free ride, such as Circles.Life, Fitness Best Asia and Smoobar.

The prize pot has grown to include a Suunto watch, two 90-minute deep tissue sports massages, 700 packets of chicken rice and a year’s supply of toilet paper, which would come in handy after eating 700 packets of chicken rice.

Then out of nowhere, Olympic swimmer Joseph Schooling crashed the party by randomly issuing his own challenge on Instagram: “I’ll give anyone a 10-second head start for a 200. Winner gets to pick a @boss suit paid for by me.”

Wait. What? Where? When? Why?

Is anyone claiming that they know naval divers who can swim 200m faster than Schooling?

At least Soh’s challenge has a venue, a date and a purpose.

Schooling’s challenge is like something he just made up on the spot to give his sponsor, Hugo Boss, a shout-out.

But while all this may seem like fun and games, things took a dark turn early yesterday morning when Soh posted on Facebook:
“Over the past week, I’ve seen hate comments from some members of the Commando fraternity on Facebook and leaked messages from Commando whatsapp chat groups strategising how to get back at me for announcing the 2.4km Challenge. (Apparently, because it makes them look bad, or so I've read.)

“Sabotage tactics I’ve seen being discussed range from writing in to my sponsors and calling for them to drop me, to finding ways to smear my character in public.

“The Commando motto is ‘For Honour And Glory’. I think most Commandos live up to this. I hope these black sheep can strive to do the same. There is nothing honorable or glorious about turning down a fair challenge and resorting to sabotage schemes. While trying to smear me, what you’re really doing is smearing the reputable name of the Commandos - your own band of brothers.

“I believe that a bit of this may have come from keyboard warriors having fun stirring the pot to pit me vs the Commandos and enjoying the show.”
In hopes of de-escalating the situation, he added:
“To clear up any misunderstandings, I reiterate that I respect what the Commandos have gone through, and there is so much more to being a Commando than just running.

“I can’t do what they do because I don’t train like them, similar to how they can’t do what I do without training like a distance runner. There was never a me vs them scenario.”

Clearly, this is spiralling out to be more than Soh bargained for when he started the challenge. The runner has a knack for running off at the mouth.

After run-ins with Singapore Athletics and fellow marathoner Ashley Liew, now the Commandos?

Who knew the perennial winners of the SAF Best Combat Unit could be so thin-skinned?

Perhaps Soh could offer the 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat as a peace offering – the big 2-litre ones.

And throw in 700 deep-tissue sports massages as well.

We all want a happy ending, don’t we?

The big twist could be his rival Liew shows up at the 2.4km challenge and beats Soh (again).

- Published in The New Paper, 13 September 2021