Saturday, April 24, 2010

Marathon National Record (Women) - Yvonne Danson - 2hrs 34min 41sec (1995, Chiengmai, SEA Games)

In my early 20s, I met Yvonne Margaret Danson as an aspiring long distance runner who was aiming to come in as a top runner in Singapore. She was born on  22 May 1959, in London, United Kingdom. Her height was 4 feet and 11inches. Her weight was 38kg. People called her as Yvonne. I used to see her running at MacRitchie Reservoir often. Sometimes I used to see her running with Mr 25 Club runners for long runs.

She had a passionate running coach who was coaching her from England. Yvonne's training was all based in Singapore. Her communication was usually on phone with the coach. She did not say much about the coach to me but from the communication I had with her, I realised that the coach is a very knowledgeable person. Both Yvonne and I used to share knowledge on running. We even discuss on strength training.

Being an English citizen, she represented England at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada,  and to everyone's amazement she won a bronze medal in the women's marathon with a time of 2hr 32min 24s. First and second placing was won by Carole Rouillard and Lizanne Bussieres with a time of 2hr 30min 41sec and 2hr 31min 07sec, respectively. Both of the top 2 runners were from Canada.

To analyse the race, she was in fact 1min 43sec away from the Commonwealth Games gold medal timing. On that year, the men's marathon race was won by Steve Moneghetti of Australia with a time of 2hr 11min 49sec.

After the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Yvonne, married to Tan Choon Ghee, a former National Record holder with a time of 2hr 34min. Within a year, she took up Singapore citizenship in order to represent Singapore in international competitions. Her training ground for SEA Games were also based in Singapore. I was given the GLOW grant to train. However, to train with my coach Alan Guilder in England was not given green light by SAAA. Kerry Hill, the then Technical Director of SAAA was working very hard in this but it was to no avail. I believed that if I had been trained under Alan Guilder in England, I may have had the chance of getting gold medal in Chiengmai. My hopes of training with Alan Guilder was dashed and I had to train in Singapore eventually.

Over in Singapore, I had problems finding a venue for doing my strength programmes. Yvonne invited me to the United World College Gym to do strength circuits there. I was appreciative of her help in this matter. She also joined me in the strength training program. Her husband Tan Choon Ghee also joined us.

Sometimes she used to join me in tempo runs once a week. She even brought some people to join in the tempo runs. One such person that she brought along was Helmar Aslaksan, a runner who had 31m 01sec personal best. As for other days Yvonne used to follow her coach's programme.

During the first two months of Jan and Feb, rarely I took part in any race, except the Cheingmai pre-SEA Games race trial where I did 2hr 29min and became the first qualifier for the SEA Games. Around end of March, I ran in a 10km race in Singapore with the Malaysian Junior best Ramesh in the race. I did 32min 22sec and Yvonne did 33min 46sec. Although she came in first for the race, she was disappointed with the time. She told me that she re-measured the course and found that the race route was 10.2km. I was not bothered about this. All I knew was that I have finally defeated Ramesh from Malaysia, who did 32min 52sec on that day and came in second for men open. Ramesh had been having a successful streak of success and was undefeated by any Singaporeans at that time. Even Ramachandran, the former record holder told that Ramesh from Malaysia was dominating the Singapore long distance running scene.

Over time, at the 1995 Southeast Asian Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Yvonne was the clear favourite to win the gold medal in the marathon event. However, the thought that she had to run the 10km few days later bothered her. During lunch and tea time in Thailand, she used to talk to me about this. She wanted not to run the 10km track race in the SEA Games. However,  her repeated request of not running the 10km race went in vain. She was mentally troubled and told me that she received several letters from well wishes not to run in two events. Hence, I was already feeling that this is going to affect her. I gave her a listening ear when she complained but I tried talking her out of this and told her to focus on her race.

During her SEA games marathon race, her competitor by the name of Ruwiyati of Indonesia ran neck to neck all the way throughout the race. Yvonne entered the stadium in first place while Ruwiyati was around few metres away. In the race, however, Yvonne mistakenly believed that she had to complete one lap of the stadium in order to finish the race. Hence, she stopped after the first lap run. In actual fact she was required to complete two laps. By the time she realised this and started running again, Ruwiyati of Indonesia was already breaking away from Yvonne. Ruwiyati finally crossed the finish line in first place to claim the gold medal. Ruwiyati was known for her courage in coming first and she was indeed shorter than Yvonne herself. Both did commendable times for the race.

Yvonne's time of 2 hr, 34 min and 41 sec done in the 1995 SEA Games still remains the Singapore national record. She also set a Singapore national record of 36 minutes 27.39 seconds in the 10,000 metres at Chiang Mai to win the bronze medal. Yvonne also holds the Singapore national record for the 5,000 metres, having run the distance in 17 minutes 35.3 seconds in Singapore in 1997.

At Chiengmai, Yvonne and I were told that we were the only ones in Singapore to qualify in the Olympics. We were happy about this. However, for the men section, they chose Wong Yew Tong to me as he got gold in the high Jump, even though he did not qualify for the Olympics Games. Yvonne represented Singapore at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and did well by finishing in 38th place in a field of 86 runners. She used to talk to me that she was always hoping that I would run in the Olympics. As for Wong Yew Tong, he failed to clear the starting 2.10m jump thrice at Atlanta.
Later on, Yvonne and I were in Japan to run the Sendai Half marathon in 1996. I did not run for a month, about 4 weeks and did a time of 1hr 12min. I was at that time telling myself to tone down serious running and focus on career and come back at the age of forty. Until then, I kept myself fit throughout the years. I was coaching Catholic High School. Yvonne, on the other hand, left for Greenland and settled there.

As I have known Yvonne Danson, she has been a very helpful person to me. She was  trying to make me to continue serious running when I was about to tone down my training. She motivated me alot in running. Hence, I do have great appreciation and gratitude towards this great person.