SINGAPORE: Soh Rui Yong had trained hard and won medals for Singapore. He most recently snagged silver in the 10,000-metre race at the SEA Games 2023 in May, setting a new national record in his wake. Mr Soh is also the national record holder for 5,000 metres, half marathon and full marathon. For the 2015 and 2017 SEA Games, he was the marathon champ.
Three days ago, Mr Soh celebrated his birthday (6 August) and completed his second year of law school at University College London. He is expected to graduate in 2024. As Mr Soh keeps pacing his milestones in life, The Independent Singapore (TISG) catch up with him for an exclusive interview.
TISG: Some public sentiments say you are rebranding your image because it has cost you professionally. Another camp feels you have matured, are misunderstood, or know how to handle a public image better. How important and relevant is it for national athletes to build and promote their personal brand?
Soh Rui Yong: It is not necessary to have a brand to be an athlete who does well in sport – that is down to talent and opportunity. But having a brand to stand for something is a quality that attracts a fan base and makes one more likely to clinch sponsorship, book media appearances, speaking engagements and other opportunities. As far as those things go, I have shown how it can be done. I seek to use my profile to positively benefit society – be it as a guest speaker at a corporate event, guest of honour at a primary school sports event, or simply replying to messages and comments seeking guidance on training (within my bandwidth, of course).
TISG: During the off-season, when you are not training for any competitions, share with us a typical week in Soh Rui Yong’s life.
Soh Rui Yong: Nowadays, it is spent relaxing with my girlfriend, watching Modern Family, and taking her on holidays whenever I can afford it as I cannot travel with her when training for competitions. It is hard to date a serious athlete; I am thankful she has been an understanding partner.
TISG: On 6 July 2023, the Workers’ Party (WP) proposed a motion calling on the government to “undertake a thorough evaluation of the areas of improvement in Singapore’s sporting ecosystem” and “commit to realizing clear, achievable goals for sporting success over the coming decade”. To this, an amended motion proposed by the People’s Action Party was passed: the government would “continue its thorough evaluation” and commit to realizing “our goals in sports”. What are your thoughts on these two motions, and does the motion that was passed support athletes’ professional careers better or otherwise?
Soh Rui Yong: It was nice to see sports being debated as a key issue in Parliament. I believe the WP did well to propose this motion and raise issues that unfortunately plagued sports in Singapore for a while. I hope for Parliament and the government to work together on good ideas – no matter which side of the political fence they may come from – and better sports in the nation. Sports is truly the most powerful way to unite a country. Just look at the scenes in Argentina after they won the World Cup! The emotions and national pride connected to national teams are like no other. I myself look forward to contributing and making it better in the future.
TISG: What are your plans and goals over the two years, both personally and professionally?
Soh Rui Yong: I had a good comeback to the SEA Games in 2023, and since I am getting a bit better every year, I would like to keep up the momentum and do that. Athletics aside, I would like to further my studies and career to learn the skills I need to transition to life after competitive athletics. I plan to continue making the world better through sports. My dream is to build corporate-sponsored sports schools in underserved communities like Indonesia and provide opportunities for children who would not otherwise have had these opportunities. Children are the future of our world, and I believe they can learn and benefit so much from values inculcated through sports.
TISG: What are three quirky things about you that probably no one else in the world has or does?
Soh Rui Yong:
1) I watched Aladdin five times a day when I was a kid (my mum still reminds me of this).
2) I am possibly the first athlete in the world to have set a distance-running record in the Under Armour HOVR shakedown spikes! (5,000-metre in July 2021).
3) I watched every episode of The Office with my younger sister when we were in Oregon for university together. To this day, we continue sending each other The Office memes.
TISG: When you represent Singapore as an athlete, what are you most proud of sharing about the nation with international runners?
Soh Rui Yong: Water. LOL. (He was alluding to the SEA Games 2023, where he shared his water with Indonesian runner Rikki Marthin Luther Simbolon during the 10,000-metre final).