KUALA LUMPUR: It will be a nostalgic trip when the former fastest man in Asia – Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan heads to Myanmar for the 23rd SEA Games next month.
It was at this same place 52 years ago that the former sprinter Jegathesan made his first international breakthrough at the 1961 SEAP Games in Yangon. He went on a gold medal frenzy – bursting the tape in the 200m, 400m, 4x400m.
After making his presence felt in Yangon, there was no stopping Jegathesan as he went on to make a name for himself and bring glory to the country for over a decade and rightfully earning the nickname “the flying doctor”.
Jegathesan, a doctor by profession, has contributed significantly to Malaysian sports in various capacities.
He has been invited by Myanmar to assume the role of medical and doping advisor.
“I won my first ever international gold medal in my athletics career at the SEAP Games in Yangon. I was 17 years old then. From there, my career in athletics took flight. It will indeed be a nostalgic trip to Myanmar,” said a sprightly Jegathesan, who celebrated his 70th birthday on Nov 2.
“There were just so many spectators for athletics then. Those days, they did not have television so they came in hordes to watch the action in Yangon. The atmosphere was very lively.”
“Then, I was studying in Singapore but represented Malaysia in the SEAP Games. The following year, I went on to win my first Asian Games gold medal. So, Myanmar will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Jegathesan won the 1962 Bangkok Asian Games gold medal – breaking the Games record in 200m with a time 21.3s
He featured in three Olympic Games – in Rome (1960), Tokyo (1964) and Mexico (1968). In Mexico, he made it to the 200m semifinals – posting a blistering time of 20.92s, which still stands as the country’s best timing.
“I still remember the camaraderie we had among the athletics team during that SEAP Games. We had a great bunch like Asir Victor, Nashatar Singh, Rajalingam and Kamaruddin Maidin, to mention a few. It was indeed the beginning of a new era for athletics in the 1960s.
“Those days, Malaysia ruled in sports like athletics, hockey and football, which require athletes to train hard in the scorching heat. They were made of sterner stuff. Now, the trend has changed ... we tend to dominate in indoor sports – like badminton, squash and bowling.
When asked what would be his advice to the current batch of athletes gearing up for Myanmar, he declined, saying that enough had been said.
“It is best that old timers like me keep quiet for now,” said Jegathesan.
His curt answer is understandable. So much of effort, guidance and advice had been given to motivate, empower and lift the standard of the current crop of athletes but the outcome on the track and field has been far from satisfactory.
At the last SEA Games in Indonesia two years ago, Malaysia won six gold medals but the men’s 4x400m relay gold was stripped as relay runner Yunus Lasaleh had tested positive for a banned substance.
Malaysian Athletics Federation (MAF) have set a five-gold medal target in Myanmar. Whether Malaysia will see the birth of another star in Myanmar, just as it did five decades ago, remains to be seen.