Athletics

Soh Rui Yong’s attack was out of the blue, Ashley Liew tells court

Marathoner accuses ex-teammate of defaming him in five instances

Former teammate Soh Rui Yong's allegations on social media about his act of sportsmanship came "out of the blue" and were "unprovoked", said marathoner Ashley Liew in the State Court yesterday.

Liew, 33, took to the stand for 21/2 hours on the first day of his defamation suit against Soh, who is represented by Clarence Lun from Foxwood LLC.

Liew is accusing the 29-year-old Soh of defaming him in five instances via comments made on social media and is seeking $120,000 in damages.

"I was very shocked myself when I heard the allegations... it was out of the blue and unprovoked after racing in 2015 and this was raised in 2018," said Liew, who is represented by Mark Teng from That.Legal LLC.

The dispute between both runners began in October 2018, when two-time SEA Games marathon champion Soh, in a Facebook post, disputed Liew's account of an act of sportsmanship that occurred during the 2015 SEA Games marathon final.

Liew said he had slowed down to allow other runners to catch up after they missed a U-turn and took the wrong path.

Liew, a doctor of chiropractic, received a special award for sportsmanship at the Singapore Sports Awards in June 2016, and was subsequently nominated for and won the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy in September that year.

In his cross-examination of Liew, Soh's lawyer pressed him on several points in his testimony, raising his voice on several occasions.

Recapping the U-turn incident at the 2015 SEA Games marathon, Liew said in court that he recalled Cambodia's Kuniaki Takizaki had been the first to close the gap and overtake him after getting back on the right route.

There were 10 other runners that were "gradually catching up and I was trying to match the rhythm so we could gradually catch up", he said.

"I was still going at a slower marathon pace... at the 700m point, the order somewhat resumed with Takizaki in front and the rest of us were in a tight pack."

He reiterated that he was in the middle of the pack before making the U-turn and remained so after the others had caught up when he slowed down.

But Lun retorted: "I put it to you that you're lying when you said that you were in the middle of the pack."

Liew responded: "No, I disagree."

Lun also referred to a June 12, 2015 episode of Mediacorp's The 5 Show where Liew was interviewed, and the programme's host had said Liew "slowed down to a crawl" and this "cost him the gold medal".

When pressed by Lun if he thought he had a chance at the gold, Liew said he and his coach believed he had a "bronze medal chance" but that he "never said or suggested that what I did led to me losing out on a medal".

Lun then asked why Liew did not make any clarifications when the host gave a "wrong account" of his actions costing him a gold medal.

Liew replied: "I didn't feel what was said was untrue, so I did not feel the need or responsibility to call it out on live TV."

Questioned repeatedly on whether he thought he could have won gold, Liew said: "It's anybody's game 5.5km into the race. There's always a chance in sport.

"When it comes to a race, especially a long-distance race like a marathon, things are not predictable especially in conditions like (that on that day) which were dark and rainy and very unexpected."

The runner was also asked about the viral social media post by chiropractic mentor Kelvin Ng, who had written about Liew's act of sportsmanship on the Family Health Chiropractic Clinic's Facebook page. Ng had said in the post that Liew "deserves a sportsmanship award".

Referring to this, Lun asked: "If you say you're truly humble, why didn't you nip it in the bud when Kelvin posted on Facebook back in 2015?"

Liew said: "It's not my role to correct what other people feel I may be deserving of.

"I just do the act and let the results speak from there. I have no control behind his words and intentions... there was a slowing down, there was an incident, whether that amounts to an award, I have no control over."

He did not respond to Soh's allegations and left the clarification to his manager because "it is not in my nature to personally start a Facebook war or trade comments on Facebook, because that's not my style".

Soh was not present in court yesterday as he is expected to testify next week.

The hearing continues today.

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