SINGAPORE – Veteran running coach Steven Quek told the court on Thursday (Sept 23) that he did not see Ashley Liew slow down during the 2015 SEA Games marathon.
The 52-year-old, who has been coaching track and field for 33 years, appeared as a witness for two-time SEA Games marathon champion Soh Rui Yong, whom he had coached from the time the latter was a student at Raffles Junior College until he was in the second year of his studies at the National University of Singapore.
Liew, 33, is accusing Soh, 29, of defaming him in five instances via comments made on social media and is seeking $120,000 in damages.
The dispute between the two athletes began in October 2018, when Soh, in a Facebook post, disputed Liew’s account of an incident that occurred during the 2015 SEA Games marathon, where 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 chiropractor, later received two awards for his act of sportsmanship and praise from cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2015 National Day Rally.
On Thursday, Quek said he was at East Coast Park to watch the race and had stood about 100m from the U-turn point.
Liew’s lawyer, Mark Teng of That.Legal LLC, put it to Quek during cross examination that he would not have seen Liew slow down had he only done so after passing Quek, to which the coach replied: “Yes. Right where I was, it did not happen.”
In response to a query by District Judge Lee Li Choon on what he meant in his affidavit about not seeing Liew stop or slow down, Quek later explained that he had seen the pack of runners missing the U-turn point, as well as Liew turning at the correct point and running back towards his direction.
He added: “At the point I was looking at him, at no point he was slowing down.”
Earlier in the day, Soh had denied that he made his claims about Liew’s act of sportsmanship because he was jealous of his former national teammate.
Teng had posited that Soh, 29, had made his comments about the incident only in 2018 because he was “jealous” and felt he deserved more publicity.
“No, I did it because it’s (Liew’s claims) untrue,” said Soh. “And it was brought up again and again.”
Teng then brought up Soh’s own acts of sportsmanship – at the 2012 Army Half-Marathon and the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur – and noted that these did not garner as much publicity as Liew’s, nor did they win Soh any awards.
In response, Soh said he did not know of any sportsmanship awards before Liew was awarded his. Liew was presented the Pierre de Coubertin World Fair Play Trophy by the International Fair Play Committee (IFPC) in September 2016 and it was one of the two he received for his act of sportsmanship.
Soh disagreed with Teng’s assertions that he had made the statements against his client because he “yearned to be recognised as a sportsman” and “wanted to be the only Singaporean marathoner talked about”.
“I disagree because all this is framing of motive, and I’m not jealous of Ashley at all,” said Soh.
Later, when re-examined by his own lawyer Clarence Lun of Foxwood LLC, Soh reiterated: “There’s nothing Ashley has that I would get jealous about.”
He also said that if he were jealous that his own acts of sportsmanship in 2012 and 2017 were not recognised in the form of an award, he would have made his statements publicly in 2017.
“The reason I did (in 2018) was that (Liew’s claim) was repeated by the IFPC, and I wanted to clarify with (them) on their Facebook page… How would I know it was going to be picked up (by the media)?” said Soh.