The Perak State Athletics Championships in 1963 was my first competition in Malaya and I wanted to use it to prepare for my first decathlon in Penang. I trained for all the ten decathlon events and played all my other sports for the regiment: hockey, cricket, football, basketball, cross-country. I trained daily while still working hard on my music and other military duties. Suppiah, my coach, as part of my training programme, introduced me to hill running. I thought I had done this before and told him so.
“This is different,” he said, “You will see.”
We arrived at the Ipoh tin mines for my first session one hot Saturday afternoon. These sand hills weren’t hills, they were mountains. I’d never run up such steep hills of loose sand. He started me with a little hill to get me used to it. After the first session my legs and chest were burning like never before. I was happy to hear I would have ten minutes rest.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Terrible,” I said.
After twenty minutes rest, I did another session. The other young club athletes were excused this, but I had to do it to prepare for my ten events. I knew it was going to be tough but I did it. I could hardly cycle back. The rest of the athletes had never seen me like this before. When I got home I slept for three hours.
“It was the hardest training I’ve ever done in my life,” I told Suppiah later. “How often will I be doing this sort of training?”
“Once a week for now, because it’s loose sand and you have to get used to it,” he said.
“I want to do it twice a week,” I told him.
“No it will be too much. You might injure yourself,” He warned.
I persisted, however, and would do this type of training twice a week in the off-season in preparation for the athletics season. Sometimes upwards of a hundred local people came to see me do this extra-ordinary sand hills training. I found it very encouraging. I wanted to do more but Suppiah advised against it and this time I took his advice. I was practising my jumps (long jump, high jump and triple jump) and my run-ups for them and was also getting running practice in all the army sports I was still doing. I was getting fitter and stronger but I lacked competition, so I asked Suppiah to put me into the inter-zone championships as well as the Perak State Championships, and asked my regiment to enter me for five events in the Commonwealth Forces Championships. Everyone thought I was trying to do too much too fast but I refused to change my plans. I stuck to my training programme which was to play for all sports, playing football, hockey, cricket, basketball and other “fun” sports such as volley ball and hand ball and not to train for one particular sport. Not many people agreed with my approach but I didn’t let that influence me.
At my first Perak State Athletics Championships I won the 100m, came second in the 200m, won the javelin, high jump, long jump, came second in the discus, shot, and triple jump and came third in the 110m hurdles. I was also in the winning relay teams for 4x100m and 4x400m. I didn’t do the pole vault. In all, I got six gold medals and this got me the champion athlete’s trophy. I also won the best performance trophy for my 100m, which was 10.9 second on a grass track!! Suppiah was very pleased as were all my team members and officials from the Perak Swifts Club. The colonel of my regiment congratulated me on a fine performance. He wanted to know how I thought I would do in the Commonwealth Forces Championships to be held in Malacca later on. There would be Australian and New Zealand military athletes there as well as those from Malayan forces.
“I train harder than anyone else, I play more sport than anyone else and I work harder than anyone else so I am confident that I will win,” I said.
“Aren’t you over-confident?” some people asked me.
“No it’s the truth,” I said. “Only time will tell.”
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