In 1950, the British Government in Malaya organised a team of four weightlifters to participate at the Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand for the first time under the Union Jack. This was the first time weightlifting was introduced at the Games, known then as the British Empire Games. Without any funding from sports organisations, the four weightlifters paid for their own expenses to participate at the Games.
Nobody expected Koh Eng Tong, one of Malaya’s pioneer and foremost professional photographers, to win the Featherweight category. Eng Tong won the very first Commonwealth Games gold for the country, lifting 310.5 kg (684.5 lbs). He was ranked one of the top ten Featherweight Lifters in the World the following year.
Eng Tong started practicing weightlifting at the age of 14 in his backyard. A weakling as a child, he one day decided that he had been bullied enough, and started building his body. His brother in law used to wield a cane to get Eng Tong to lift the iron weights. This strength of character and discipline took him far on his journey as a sportsman and businessman.
He took part in the Federation Weight Lifting Championship in 1941, clinching third place. In 1948, he made his international debut at the All China Olympic Meet, representing Malaya in Shanghai and won the Gold. That same year, Eng Tong was offered to compete at the world championships in Paris under the Singapore flag. Malaya at that time was not affiliated to the World Weight Lifting Federation. Tempting as the offer was, he declined because of the loyalty he felt for his country.
Eng Tong was also part of the first Malayan contingent to make an appearance at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. Later that year he was crowned “Champion of Champions” at the National Weightlifting Championship. Two years later, he retired from active competition.
Koh Eng Tong passed away in 2006, leaving behind a golden legacy of discipline, loyalty and dedication that will serve as a benchmark for all present and future Malaysian athletes.
“One should never be mean or cruel if one wants to live happily” ~ Koh Eng Tong
1950 Weightlifting Team
Toh Fook Hung (Bantam weight - Gold), Koh Eng Tong (Feather weight - Gold), Thong Saw Oak (Light weight - Silver), Tan Kim Bee (Light heavyweight - Bronze)