Story and photos by Iman Hashim/Red Sports
National Stadium, Friday, April 28, 2023 — She had set a new schools national record in the 3000 metres two weeks earlier, but moments before she toed the start line in the A Division girls’ 1500m final, Victoria Junior College (VJC)’s Faith Ford had niggling doubts about taking down the event’s 24-year-old electronically-timed record of 4 minutes 54.02 seconds held by Rahmah Begum, and Zhang Cuiying’s hand-timed mark of 4:53.7 set in 1991.
After all, she had never gone under 5 minutes over three-and-three-quarter laps, winning the event last year in 5:07.82 and recording 5:02.82 in this year’s heats.
“It felt like a bit of a stretch,” conceded the 18-year-old.
But familiar sources of encouragement in the form of her father, Erik Ford, and her coach, long-serving VJC teacher Tan Yew Hwee, helped her reshape her mentality going into the final.
“My coach and my dad were all like, ‘No, you can do it’, ‘You have it in you’, ‘Just go out there and try’… then I was like, you know what, I’ll just go out there and run and we’ll see how it goes,” she said.
Bursting out from the pack on the back straight and completing her first 300m in around 54s, Faith never relented and eventually crossed the finish line three laps later in 4:52.41, shattering both records in the process.
She finished at least 30 seconds ahead of her nearest challengers, with Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) duo Eunice Chin (5:22.43) and Sheryl Tang (5:34.17) taking the silver and bronze respectively.
Admitting that her initial target was just to finish under the 5-minute barrier, Faith said of her thoughts during the race: “After my first lap, I was like, whoa… actually this feels okay, I think I can maintain (this pace).
“After that, I maintained (the pace) and I was like, wait, I can do it… when I had 400 metres left to go, I saw it was three three something (around 3:34), and I was like, you know what, I’m going to try… I’m going to do it.
“When I finished, I was like, wow… it was a huge ‘pinch me’ moment,” she added.
Faith’s victory wrapped up a distance treble this season, after winning the 3000m at this track meet and being the top A girls’ individual finisher at the National Schools Cross Country Championships.
Her 10:41.48 clocked in the 3000m heats erased Raffles Institution alumna Toh Ting Xuan’s 2018 record of 10:46.37, before she ran 10:42.12 four days later in the final to bag the gold. At the cross country meet, Faith timed 13:45.79 over the approximately 3.8km route to finish more than one-and-a-half minutes ahead of her nearest competitor. That also helped VJC win the A girls’ cross country team title which the school last won in 2016.
Faith said missing out on the 3000m record by only four seconds at last year’s track meet had fuelled her fire leading up to this season.
“That inspired me to keep going,” she explained, referring to her 10:50.71 run last year. “I was like, you know what, I’m going to make sure I cut those 4 seconds next year.”
“That gave me motivation to do even better this year. As a result, that also showed in my other events,” said Faith, who is one-third of triplets.
Her sister Gemma represented Anglo-Chinese Junior College and ran alongside her in the 3000m as well as the 4x400m relay which was run less than two hours after the 1500m final.
Faith’s coach Tan Yew Hwee, too, initially expressed reservations about his athlete cracking the 1500m record, but maintained that she has the “values and character to do it”.
“Coaching her is challenging as she would want to know why we do this and that, which is good as she wants to know how the training benefits her,” said Mr Tan, who has taught and coached at VJC since 1995.
“To get her to rest is also challenging as she cannot sit still. She is pleasant to coach and very teachable and humble,” he added.
Mr Tan also paid tribute to Faith’s support system. “Her dad, Erik Ford, is her pillar. He monitors her progress diligently and will always communicate with myself and other teachers helping the runners,” he said, also thanking fellow teachers Kok Ye Hong and Russell Woo who helped to monitor Faith’s training whenever he was unavailable.
“It takes a whole village to raise a child,” Mr Tan added.
Faith’s foray into competitive running was a rather unconventional and accidental one.
Formerly a swimmer during her lower secondary days before Covid-19 struck, her running potential was first discovered by Mr Tan’s friend, Mark Neo, who was Faith’s neighbour.
“Mark noticed Faith’s determination when she was running on the treadmill and gave me a ring, asking if VJC needed female runners,” said Mr Tan, explaining that this was during the Direct School Admission (DSA) application period when Faith was in her final year at CHIJ St. Joseph’s Convent.
Mr Tan got Faith to run at a Singapore Athletics All-Comers meet in 2021 where she clocked 12:07.75 over 3000m, which he deemed “not bad for a beginner”.
“Faith’s coach then, Asmah (Hanim), also highly recommended her to me. We decided to take her (into VJC) after looking into her academics, and the rest was history,” Mr Tan added.
Meanwhile in the B Division boys’ 1500m final run earlier in the day, Reuben Loke (4:25.27), Isaac Tan (4:26.35) and Muhammad Akid (4:28.99) ensured a 1-2-3 medal sweep for Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).
The final middle distance event of the afternoon saw Raffles Institution’s Pranav Shreedhar (4:15.02), HCI’s Jacob Tan (4:16.51) and teammate Oumalee Theejutha (4:16.68) finish in the top three positions in the A Division boys’ race.
64th National Schools Track and Field Championships 2023
B Div Boys’ 1500m Final
1st Loke E-Jay Reuben (#79, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) — 4 minutes 25.27 seconds
2nd Isaac Tan Tze Sian (#66, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)) — 4:26.35
3rd Muhammad Akid Bin Muhammad Najib (#81, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)) — 4:28.99
4th Pranit Nitin (#646, Temasek Secondary) — 4:29.79
5th Koo Iain Cheer, Emerson (#251, Evergreen Secondary) — 4:29.91
6th Tan Wei Yee (#348, Hwa Chong Institution) — 4:34.22
7th Dhiran Dev Rajah (#554, St. Joseph’s Institution) — 4:34.41
8th Tristan Loh (#715, Victoria School) — 4:36.64
A Div Girls’ 1500m Final
1st Faith Zhen Ford (#193, Victoria Junior College) — 4 minutes 52.41 seconds (New CR)
2nd Eunice Chin Ee Teng (#82, Hwa Chong Institution) — 5:22.43
3rd Sheryl Tang Yu Xuan (#96, Hwa Chong Institution) — 5:34.17
4th Chew Zhi Qi (#173, St. Andrew’s Junior College) — 5:34.68
5th Edna Kwa Suan (#147, Raffles Institution) — 5:35.72
6th Caitlyn Marie Tey (#63, Eunoia Junior College) — 5:37.16
7th Natalie Tan Li Ying (#91, Hwa Chong Institution) — 5:37.83
8th Ophelia Neo (#61, Dunman High School) — 5:41.27
A Div Boys’ 1500m Final
1st Pranav Shreedhar (#230, Raffles Institution) — 4 minutes 15.02 seconds
2nd Jacob Tan (#121, Hwa Chong Institution) — 4:16.51
3rd Oumalee Theejutha (#135, Hwa Chong Institution) — 4:16.68
4th Mervyn Ong Shao Xuan (#14, Anglo-Chinese Junior College) — 4:17.46
5th Ferrell Lee (#34, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)) — 4:17.82
6th James Lachlan Chin (#38, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)) — 4:19.93
7th Bryan Cheung Jia Jie (#29, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) — 4:21.53
8th Jonathan Tan (#214, Raffles Institution) — 4:26.21
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