S M Ong: Are the commandos coming for Soh Rui Yong in 2.4km challenge?
Well, that escalated quickly.
Maybe even quicker than marathoner Soh Rui Yong running 2.4km in 6min 53.18sec.
On Sept 4, the two-time SEA Games gold medallist officially became the first Singaporean to complete the distance in less than seven minutes.
Is that fast? 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 8½ minutes to get the maximum points. Any faster, you are just showing off.
Soh was not taking his IPPT, but he is not 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 did not 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 seven-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 kinds of statements."
Meaning he was not 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 two litres, but what 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, such as Circles.Life, Fitness Best Asia and Smoobar.
The prize pot has grown to include a Suunto watch, a year's supply of toilet paper, 700 packets of chicken rice and two 90-minute deep-tissue sports massages.
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 does not.
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."
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 he bargained for when he started the challenge.
After Singapore Athletics and fellow marathoner Ashley Liew, is Soh the runner now having a run-in with the commandos?
Who knew the perennial winners of the SAF Best Combat Unit could be so sensitive?
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 this to end happily, don't we?