by Yong Soo Heong
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 7: “Tunku Abdul Rahman spotted me, stopped his motorcade, came out of his car and offered me a lift!” That remarkable incident will always remain unforgettable to Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegathesan, Malaysia’s first Sportsman of the Year in 1967.
“I thanked him and declined (the offer) as I was just crossing the road. That’s Tunku Abdul Rahman for you,” he said, citing the great-heartedness of the country’s first prime minister.
The ”Flying Doctor”, or Jega as he was popularly known, also recalled that when he injured himself with a muscle pull in an athletics meet in Britain, the Tunku who was also visiting that country at the same time, made arrangements to send him a massage machine!
“Imagine how would you feel when you got such attention?” he asked as he hailed Tunku Abdul Rahman’s kindness.
Jega made these remarks at a joint 80th birthday celebrations here yesterday for him and Dato’ Paduka M. Rajamani, who incidentally won the Sportswoman of the Year award in the same year. Also present was Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh.
The gathering, which was also attended by many sporting icons and sports officials from the 1960s and 1970s, was organised by Young Talent Track & Field (YTTF), a newly-formed organisation aimed at developing grassroot athletics in Malaysia and to make physical activities fun for young children and differently abled children between the ages of six and 12.
Jega, who shared his “Three-Circle Philosophy” on how a person could attain glory and greatness, said they would not have been possible individually.
He stressed that they were attained with assistance from well-meaning people around the individual who provided encouragement and the pathways besides having an enabling environment.
Citing the example of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Jega said the “Bapa Merdeka” provided much encouragement and a supportive environment for sportsmen and sportswomen to thrive during the 1960s and 1970s.
Similarly, the country’s second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, was also very supportive of sporting events and even became the President of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, said the Kuala Kangsar-born Jega, a three-time Olympian and held the 100m and 200m national records for 30 years and 49 years respectively.
Alluding to the fact that the Tunku and Tun Razak and the supportive environment as belonging to the third circle of enablers, Jega cited the necessity of the other two circles to push a person to bigger things.
The first circle is the self-realisation of what a person is capable of or best suited for to excel in a particular field and the second circle lies in the support and encouragement from family members, friends, colleagues, teachers, coaches, mentors and superiors.
YTTF Chairman Datuk Lt. Commander (Rtd) Karu Selvaratnam and a noted athlete himself in his younger days, recalled a relay race against Jega in the mid-1950s when top school relay teams from then Malaya and Singapore were invited to Kuala Lumpur to race against each other.
Karu was representing ACS Ipoh while Jega was representing ACS Singapore in the race and they didn’t know each other then.
“I was the third runner and had run way ahead of the others in the race when I passed the baton to the last runner and I thought we had the race in the bag. Suddenly there was this runner who rushed past me as I was resting on the side of the track. Later I found he had beaten my team mate!
“I asked my team mate ‘what happened?’ That guy muttered something that the rival runner must have been an over-aged entry! I then went close to Jega and saw that he didn’t even sport any strand of beard or moustache at all!” That began the friendship between Jega and Karu, both fine men of Ceylonese Tamil descent.
Karu, who is 82 going on 83, also recounted the start of Tapah-born Rajamani’s athletics career in Ipoh.
He revealed that some of her conservative Ceylonese Tamil neighbours had gone round to see her father, V. Mailvaganam, to complain that it was rather unbecoming of her — a young girl then — running around the neighbourhood in a pair of shorts! They claimed that it might lower her marriage prospects!
But Mailvaganam stood firm and became Rajamani’s main motivator, greatest teacher, biggest fan and rock.
“My father had so much confidence in me. He told them: ‘I know what my daughter is doing.’”
After she won many honours locally and internationally, Karu said the neighbours did go back to apologise to her dad and even said that her marriage prospects had gone up!
Rajamani, who won the National Sportswoman of the Year twice, seven gold medals at the Seap Games, an Asian Games gold medal and was Malaysia’s first female Olympian, eventually married a police officer.