When I started training with the Perak Swifts Athletics Club in Ipoh, Malaya, in 1962, they were an average club with some talented young athletes, but they were overshadowed by Kilat Club who were the top club at the time. Kilat Club had all the top international athletes competing for them and were winning all the local competitions, trophies and prize money. Perak Swifts had a dozen or so school kids and youngsters who did athletics for fun more than anything else. I started training with them at the YMCA ground or Anderson’s school ground or at Suppiah’s school ground. I trained hard and enjoyed the training but was getting irritated by the behaviour of some of the other athletes who weren’t taking it seriously. I told Suppiah how I felt about them and he invited me to tell them so. I agreed but said I wanted to do so when we met next on the training ground.
“I joined this club because I want to win things,” I said to the young athletes gathered round me. “I’m fed up with hearing that Kilat Club win everything. If we get serious, we can beat them. I’m new here, but I’m looking forward to our first competition against them so I can see how good they really are. I’ll be competing in open events in the schools competitions and I intend to win. We can make a name for ourselves and recruit other good athletes into our club that way.” Then I turned to Suppiah and asked him,
“Why can’t we enter relay races in these big competitions?”
“Because we only have young athletes,” he said.
“So what?” I challenged, “If they’re good enough to win relays, why shouldn’t they enter them?”
He was nervous about this new idea at first but we started winning these competitions with our young athletes and so we started entering these events. I had to coach myself in most of the events I did (field events) as no local coaches were available to coach me and Suppiah was a sprints coach.
After a while, I was invited to a meeting of the Perak Amateur Athletics Association at the YMCA. I asked why there were no multi-events coaches. The head of the association was a man called Basil Flinter. He was an Australian working for one of the mining companies.
“As a young man, you have a lot to say for yourself,” he said to me. “You must be careful. Lots of senior people who know a lot more about athletics than you do have made these decisions.”
“I’m not questioning them and their knowledge about athletics,” I said. “I’m just saying they don’t know much about multi-events athletics. They only have one decathlon a year in this country and if you want to do another event, you have to go to Singapore to do it. Not everyone can afford to travel so far away just to get another competition so it’s hard to get good enough.”
“You’ve only just come to Malaya. You must learn that Malaya is not England,” he told me.
“You come from Australia,” I said, “and they have lots of multi-events like decathlon and pentathlon there, so why not here?”
He was in charge of the Perak AAA and also a member of the Malaya Amateur Athletics Union, I thought, so why couldn’t he do something about it? I don’t think he liked me too much for my outspoken challenge and our relationship was never very warm after that. I left it to Suppiah to fight my battles, which he did well and brought a lot of improvements to the sport, but he couldn’t say the things I said to Basil Flinter. I could say them and get away with it because I felt that I was at least his equal and I had a right to voice my opinion. I kept bringing the subject up at every opportunity and it wasn’t long before a reporter from “The Straits Times,” Lee Fan Yoo, wrote articles about it. I was surprised to find that this produced results, as Suppiah told me that a decathlon had been arranged for the Malayan Championships in Penang. I still didn’t really believe it would happen, as up to then there had been so many disappointments. Nevertheless, I continued to train for the decathlon daily whenever time and my military duties, which always took priority, allowed me. I specialised in all the speed events but still did the long jump, high jump and triple jump, shot, discus and javelin at Andersons School in Ipoh. Even though there were only three home-made hurdles instead of the ten you needed, I practised on them in camp. Unfortunately there was no-where to do the pole vault, so Staff Sergeant Dixon set these facilities up for me on the grounds in Ipoh camp where we played regimental football.
Then Suppiah told me that the decathlon in the Malayan Championships was definitely on and the Asian champion, Cyril Pereira, would be taking part, as would the Singapore decathlon champion.
“Do you still want to take part in the decathlon?” Suppiah asked me.
“Yes” I said. There was never a doubt in my mind, but first I would be competing in the Perak State Athletics Championships.
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