The Olympics is more than a battle of the strongest. It is also a mind game, an awareness of one’s own human capabilities, an exploration of talent, and a whole new dimension of discipline. No words can describe the privilege and experiences etched into the memories of Olympians when they step onto their ‘battleground’. This honour does, however, establish their identity forever. Once they retire from competing, they carry with them an experience only a privileged few can comprehend.
We spoke to four veterans—prominent faces of their sports—who played for the love of their country and not the money. They described the races they ran, laps they swam and goals they scored. It was also in their lowest points that they mustered historical feats. And when they wield their authority about the Olympics and its evolution, you listen and learn.
Dato’ N Sri Shanmuganathan
Mention the word ‘Olympic’ and his gaze takes on a glint of steel: to him, determination, discipline and dedication are the makings of an Olympian. “From the moment you’re selected for the Olympics, that’s when your responsibility begins,” says Dato’ N Sri Shanmuganathan, a three-time Olympian and twice-captain of the Malaysian hockey team.
“Your country and the sport remains, but you come and go. We remember this when the Jalur Gemilang flag flies, when we wear it on our jersey. In the Olympics, it is the country’s name that you’re defending.”
“It was a real honour and pleasure to be selected for the Olympics and means more to me now than it did then,” says Jeffrey Ong who made a splash from an early age, swimming for school, then his state of Penang, then on to Southeast Asian competitions, the SEA Games and various championships. In early 1988 Ong won two silver medals at the Asian Swimming Championships, which marked his entry into the 1988 Olympics.
“You aren’t just a Malaysian Olympian, you’re an ambassador of the country and your role is to educate people about your country.”
Datuk M Rajamani
Datuk M Rajamani did not win any medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but she took the experience as a stepping-stone. She met many international runners, but to her, the regional meets were more important.
In fact, her win at the 1965 SEAP Games was her proudest moment. “I stood on the podium after winning gold for the 400m and cried and cried. We were not running for the money, we were motivated by the glory of our country. We used to say ‘lari mati-mati’ (run till death)—we could be throwing up and we’d be up for the next run immediately.”
Datuk Santokh Singh
“I am a legend,” says Datuk Santokh Singh, “because I played with the legends.” It’s a known fact that the Harimau Malaya that famously beat South Korea 2-1 in the 1980 Olympic qualifying games at Stadium Merdeka were thick as thieves on the field, deftly intercepting and passing the ball. But sadly the historical synergy did not get to manifest at the Moscow Olympics due to a political boycott.
“If we had gone, we would have done very well. We had a good team and a multiracial team at that. We would go into the event together as one for the nation.”
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