Joe Bloggs:An Unlikely Hussar Part 30 How I Got a Gold Medal in the Decathlon from the King of Malaysia.

First Prize

The first Malaysian Games was due to be held in the last year that my regiment would be stationed in Malaya and I wanted to take part in the decathlon. I also wanted to represent Malaya in the SEAP games in athletics, football and hockey. I found it deeply irritating to be told by my APTC sports instructor that this might be a bit too much to take on. No one seemed to understand why I wanted to do all these events. There were no specific coaches available for the different events apart from the football team, the cricket team and the cross country, but even these weren’t regular training sessions because the regiment were often away in Singapore and fighting on the Indonesian border in Sarawak in Borneo and the band had to visit them periodically to boost morale by entertaining them. I found time to train wherever I had to go, however, and I carried my shot and discus with me. Large crowds of locals always came to watch me train. I always let them ask me questions and some of them took photographs. This following motivated me to do well. I visited many schools to perform music and yet when they asked questions it was mostly about my sport. It wasn’t long before sports reporters approached me at the army camp or my home or when I went out with my family. The locals were always very friendly and hospitable and reminded me of people back home in British Guiana.

While we were in Labuan, the champion shot putter there came and found me by the airport. He was a massive bloke. He said he was looking for the “English” shot putter, but when he found me, he thought I must be the wrong person because I was too small. He wanted to have a competition with me there and then, but I said I hadn’t come there for that. However, he got out a brass shot which he offered me to throw. I took it and made a play of groaning at how heavy it was, but then I put it and his eyes nearly popped out of his head at the distance. When it came to his turn to throw he didn’t manage to get it anywhere near as far, so he was very impressed by me and nearly shook my arm off its socket. We made friends and I gave him one of my Perak club vests as a present when we left.

During this tour, the band was called back to Singapore because trouble brewed up again. The rest of the tour was cancelled and the band returned to barracks. We flew back from Jesselton (now known as Kinabalu in Sabah) to Singapore and from there by train to Ipoh. Relieved to be back in safety, I had a meeting with Suppiah over dinner at his house to discuss how I would approach the Malaysian Games. He as always, being a sprint coach, wanted me to concentrate on the 100m, 200m sprints and the relays. I wanted to do the decathlon. I got my way as I wasn’t about to give up on my dream. I knew it would be tough as I would be up against all the top athletes in Borneo, Singapore, Malaya and all the other islands. Band Master Patch, Band Sergeant Major Stocks and all the senior officers gave me their encouragement and support. Despite Suppiah’s advice to do so, I didn’t change any of my training and preparation. I was selected for the Perak State and also the Malayan national hockey teams and so played for them when required. I was also selected to play for the Malayan national cricket team when they had a friendly match with the West Indies cricket team who were touring the area at the time. I also played in all the regiment’s hockey, football, basketball, volleyball matches and the cross-country. Suppiah told me that if I did the cross-country it would ruin me as a sprinter in the Malaysian Games. I told him that my regiment comes first and I had a duty to do the cross country as the regiment were paying for my transport and all my expensive equipment, footwear and meals.

“You can’t just take, take, take and give nothing back,” I told him. “The army is like a family to me and family members do things for each other.” I had never wanted to repay the trust my officers gave me by letting them down. I would never mis-use the time off they allowed me to train, or to let them down by not doing their cross country.

As preparation for the Malaysian Games, I entered eight events in the Perak State championships. Basil Flinter told me it would kill me,

“Remember you are a human, not a machine,” he advised. “You have to realise that you’ll not be able to win or even be placed in events like shot, discus and javelin because of your height and weight and because you’re up against champions.”

“Well you don’t put on any multi-events competitions, so how can I get better if I have no multi-event competitions to enter? I’m doing all these other sports as well as athletics, so I won’t injure myself.”

In the weeks and months that followed, luck was on my side. Bill Miller, the US decathlon champion and 1952 Olympic silver medallist in javelin came to Malaya as part of the IAAF coaching programme. Suppiah told me that Bill was coming to stay for three days in Ipoh, so I asked the regiment if they would allow him to conduct a session on the sports field at the back of our camp. They agreed to my delight. The band at this time was doing a lot of broadcasting on Singapore and Malayan radio and I was involved with these as well as lots of military and civilian functions. I was also called up to play hockey in the Perak State Hockey Championships before Bill Miller arrived at Ipoh. All the top coaches and athletes were at his training sessions which were brilliant, so I got to learn a lot from him. He was a great communicator and a great javelin thrower. I had never seen anyone throw a javelin over 200 feet. Bill threw 258 feet in his tracksuit in a warm-up with only four paces run up. Watching him demonstrate meant everything as it showed that the techniques and ideas he had, which were different from the books I had been reading, worked. I resolved to be like him if ever I became a coach, since you have to be able to do something yourself if you are to coach someone properly to achieve the highest standards. I got to know Bill personally at a social evening we were both invited to at the home of my friend Tony Mannix and his wife Theresa. Bill gave me an autographed photo of himself when he competed for the USA in decathlon at the 1952 Olympics, and later sent me books, magazines and training sessions to use. We remained in touch until 1967 when I was back in Germany.

The Commonwealth Forces Football Championships final was the next fixture I played my part in and only three days later, it was time to compete in the next Perak State Athletics Championships. Suppiah and I were both pleased at my performances again, winning the 100m, high jump, long jump and javelin and coming second in discus, shot and triple jump. I was also in the winning teams for 4x100m and 4x400m relays. Now the only thing ahead was the decathlon in the Malaysian Games. The regiment laid concrete circles for me to practise the shot and discus under ideal conditions and I worked very hard now on improving my field events. Instead of tin mine hill training, I now did lots of short 30m sprints, bounding, hopping and explosive exercises as well as six and nine mile runs. The regimental PTI, SSI Dixon, gave me lots of help with my high jump. Each day I did short runs with other members of my regiment and thus built up my speed, strength and endurance. When the regiment athletics championships came up, I took part in the 400m, 800m, pole vault and the 4x400m relay. I didn’t do any weight training as there were no weights available, only my body weight. The exercises were from all the other sports I was doing.

I didn’t give up any other sports as I felt I could do all of it. Before the Games I had to play once again for the inter-state cricket championships. I got to know Malaya really well in this as I had to travel to all the other states to play. My involvement with this showed me some of the shortcomings of a state team that was poorly managed in the field. Favouritism played a part in the selection as there were far better players who didn’t get selected than some of the ones who did. I didn’t enjoy playing in these championships because of all this and as I voiced my opinions, I may have been victimised as a result. I had originally been selected as an all-rounder, where I was opening bowler and batted no 4 but found that when we played matches, I was relegated to no 10 batsman even though I was never out. The most overs I ever bowled was four. When I questioned this with the captain and senior players, they said I was there to represent the state, not question it. Never-the-less, I was selected and played for the Malayan National cricket team. I was also selected to play for the Malayan National Hockey team in a match against Singapore, and for the Malayan National Football team, but in this they kept me on the bench but I never got to play on the pitch.

Everyone around me thought I was making a mistake by trying to do this decathlon. Suppiah thought I was throwing away a good opportunity by not entering all the sprints but I had set my heart on the decathlon. I would be coming up against Cyril Pereira again, Darshan Singh, an Indian called Gopal and an athlete called Raoul from Penang who was tipped to win.

“How many events do you think you are going to win?” asked the other Perak Swift athletes when I went training with Suppiah.

“It’s not about winning events, it’s about how many points I can accumulate by doing the ten events,” I told them, but no amount of explaining could get this through to them.

“I’m entering it to win it this time, not come second like last time.” The press came repeatedly for interviews. I was confident. Perak state made me captain and so I got the privilege of carrying the flag. I travelled down to Kuala Lumpur and army transport took my pole for me. I insisted on staying in the same accommodation as the Perak team even though not all the other athletes did that. I felt well prepared. It would be my last competition before leaving Malaya to return to Germany with the regiment. The opening ceremony with all its pomp and ceremonial bands had the King of Malaysia and all the dignitaries present. I gave interviews to the British press and “The Soldier” magazine. Normally the champion sprinter “Jegga”, a college student in an American university, got all the attention.

“Why don’t you run against me in the 100m?”he challenged.

“Yes, I’ll do it if you do the decathlon as well,” I told him. We both stuck to our respective events. Then as we entered the waiting ‘pool’ I got a shock to find that Cyril Pereira wasn’t there.

“Where is Cyril?” I asked.

“Haven’t you heard?” one of the TV crew said, “He’s just made a statement saying he has withdrawn.” I couldn’t believe it. He had no injury, so why was he doing this? I wanted to talk to him but was told he had left. Suppiah and the other Malayan AAA officials advised me to concentrate on myself and the event and forget what else was happening. I felt confused, uneasy and angry at being deprived of my big rival in the competition but there were other good quality athletes taking part and I would have to focus on performing well over the next two days. The press bombarded me.

“I intend to win all ten events and to break the record,” I told them. This caused alarm and the military press told me to retract the bit about winning all ten events. I ‘accidentally’ forgot to do this. Now I had to live up to my prediction.

I won my first event, the 100m, easily and achieved a PB of 7.18m in the long jump, winning that too. My shot put wasn’t as good as I wanted but at 13m, I still won that event. I went on to win the high jump and also the 400m, running just under 50 seconds. At the end of the first day I had won all five events and was on track for a new Malaysian record. That became a new target for day two, so I discussed it with Suppiah who told me to calm down and not to predict what I was going to do. His friend massaged me and I rested well. The next morning after breakfast and a light massage, I went to the track for a long, slow warm up. The first event was the 110m hurdles. It was one of my weaker events so I’d practised very hard for it. It paid off and I won easily. Now I felt very confident. I went on to win the discus and also the pole vault and the javelin in which I threw a PB of nearly 60m. The last event was the 1500m and I won that as well. The press photographers swamped me, followed by TV cameras and reporters and I gave a long interview to the military press. I had indeed fulfilled my prediction to win all ten events. They told me that the trophies and medals would be presented next day by the King of Malaysia. What better way to end my time in that beautiful country!

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