Runner to stretch legs longer in US
HE RUNS more than 100km a week in a bid to represent Singapore at the 2015 South-east Asian Games, but Soh Rui Yong, 23, is doing so in relatively unfamiliar land - in the United States.
The former National University of Singapore (NUS) student will complete his degree at University of Oregon (UO) instead, where he will train with a semi-professional team.
The stint in Eugene, Oregon, in north-western US, was to have lasted only four months. But it was stretched to two years by sheer luck.
Eugene is the birthplace of sports equipment-maker Nike, and scores of Olympians and 13 medallists count UO as their alma mater. "What Hollywood is to movies, Eugene, Oregon, is to running," said Soh, who broke a 22-year running record last year at the Asean University Games.
The city boasts scenic running routes on soft earth, and a cool climate - ideal conditions for a long-distance runner.
Soh, who specialises in the 10km run, said those conditions are rarely found in Singapore. The hard concrete routes here can cause injury, and precious stamina is often lost to heat and humidity.
Soh is already seeing results. Last month, he ran a half-marathon in 70min 28sec, nearly two minutes shorter than his fastest time while training in Singapore.
Running overseas had always been on his mind. Given Singapore's limited land, there is little that can be done to make it more suitable for long-distance runners, he said.
The transfer to the US university almost did not happen for the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) academic scholar.
Soh, initially a local scholar, was bound contractually to study at a Singapore university. He was at UO on an exchange programme. SSC paid only the $6,000-per-year fees for NUS, and not the nearly-$50,000-per-year fees at UO.
The decision to move was made after a talk with a professor at UO and a chance encounter with SSC chairman Richard Seow. Although Mr Seow had no direct involvement in the transfer, his encouragement helped Soh affirm that training overseas was a good idea.
A 1,000-word letter and a subsequent video-chat interview with SSC led to more funds in exchange for a one-year extension of his original four-year bond.
SSC human-capital director Patricia Tan said in a statement: "Rui Yong will benefit from immersing himself in a high-performance environment...this experience can be put to good use when he joins Team SSC in 2015."