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Marathoner Ashley Liew’s account of act of sportsmanship at 2015 SEA Games ‘untrue’, claims gold medallist Soh

SINGAPORE — Three years after marathoner Ashley Liew was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy for his act of sportsmanship, SEA Games double gold medallist Soh Rui Yong has disputed Liew’s account of events during the men’s marathon final at the 2015 SEA Games.

Marathoner Ashley Liew’s account of act of sportsmanship at 2015 SEA Games ‘untrue’, claims gold medallist Soh

Ashley Liew’s athlete management team, ONEathlete Team, stood by its runner, as it noted that Soh’s allegations have “no material basis”.

SINGAPORE — Three years after marathoner Ashley Liew was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy for his act of sportsmanship, SEA Games double gold medallist Soh Rui Yong has disputed Liew’s account of events during the men’s marathon final at the 2015 SEA Games.

But Liew’s athlete management team, ONEathlete Team, said the allegations have “no material basis”, and questioned Soh’s motives, noting that this is not the first time that the runner has adopted a “controversial and provocative stance towards fellow athletes”.

The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC), which nominated Liew for the award, also stood by its decision in a statement on Sunday (Oct 21).

At the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, Liew suddenly found himself leading the 12-strong field in the men’s marathon by about 50m after his rivals missed a U-turn and took the wrong path. He said then that he slowed down to almost a crawl in order to wait for them to catch up.

Soh eventually claimed the gold medal in 2hr 34min 56sec, while Thailand’s Srisung Boonthung and Hoang Nguyen Thanh of Vietnam finished second and third respectively.

Liew’s actions were widely publicised and earned him kudos from many Singaporeans, including a mention by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally two months later. He was recognised by the SNOC in 2016 with a special award for sportsmanship at the Singapore Sports Awards.

In October that year, he was awarded the accolade in the category of “Act of Fair Play” by the International Committee for Fairplay, which recognises acts of fair play by athletes or sports teams.

However, Soh alleged that Liew’s account of the race — and his act of sportsmanship — was “untrue” in a Facebook post on Sunday. He made the comment after an Oct 13 post by the International Fair Play Committee on their Facebook page, which called Liew a role model for fair play.

He wrote: “I was third place in that race when we took the wrong turn. When we turned around perhaps 50m into the wrong turn, Ashley was already running in the other direction. We took quite a while to catch up to him (at least one to two minutes), he certainly did not stop or slow down to wait for us.

“Until today, there remains no evidence (video, statements from marshalls at the U-turn etc) of this supposed act of sportsmanship, apart from Ashley's own claim.”

As media reports then said that Liew could have missed out on a medal due to his selfless act, Soh said this was “disrespectful to the efforts of the bronze medallist” as Liew had only gained a “maximum 20 to 30 seconds when the leaders ran an extra 100m due to the wrong turn”. He also pointed out that Hoang had finished third in 2:37:10, over  six minutes ahead of Liew who placed eighth in 2:44:02.

When contacted, Soh said he did not raise any alarm three years ago as he felt that his teammate needed a reason to “feel better” about his race performance.

He added: “He can say what he wants to make himself feel better, and then this thing went viral, and he was awarded a medal (for sportsmanship).

“While making a good story, it is simply not true… People kept buying into it, and I think enough is enough.”

Soh also said that he has "seen the good in Ashley as a runner and a person", stressing that Liew "has enough accomplishments to live by and doesn't need to rely on this story".

A member of the running community — who declined to be named — who witnessed the U-turn incident in 2015 told TODAY that there was some confusion initially when the leading race pack, which included Soh, went the wrong way at East Coast Park. As supporters had shouted at the leading runners to turn back, some of trailing runners slowed down due to the confusion.

However, he said that he did not see Liew stopping or slowing down for his rivals immediately after the incident, though he added that he could not see if that had occurred later in the race.

In its statement, ONEathlete Team said that it stands by Liew, as well as the decision by the SNOC and International Committee for Fairplay to nominate and confer Liew the award.

It is public knowledge that this is not the first time Soh has adopted a controversial and provocative stance towards fellow athletes,” said the statement.

“His actions speak contrary to his purported claims of professional camaraderie, teamwork and integrity.

“We also note that there is no material basis in Soh’s allegations that warrants any further comments. Soh’s actions are unhelpful at best, and spurious at worst.”

An SNOC spokesperson said in a statement: “We are proud of Ashley Liew and gratified that his act of sportsmanship, which was verified, has earned his recognition on the world stage by the International Fair Play Committee.

“The SNOC also recognised his act of sportsmanship with a special award in 2016, an accolade which we remain proud to have given him.”

TODAY has also reached out to the International Committee for Fairplay for comment.

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