Joo Pong slowing down the years
Published on Saturday The Malay Mail
Monday, May 26, 2014
Today, he drives a taxi at a slow pace, hoping for passengers to wave him down.
Age, no doubt, has slowed him down considerably. And for someone who had represented Malaya in two Olympics – Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968 – the downturn in fortunes had been inconceivable.
Apart from driving the taxi part-time, Joo Pong is also a contract lorry salesman.
To those who don’t know, Joo Pong was a pioneering national cyclist in the 1960s and was the first Malaysian to win a medal at the inaugural Asian cycling championships held at Merdeka Stadium in 1963.
Joo Pong, who turns 68 on June 19, won the bronze medal in the 1,000m individual road time trial in his first international meet when he was only 17.
The event was won by Thailand’s Taworn Jirapan ahead of Japan’s Masahi Omiya.
The Kuala Lumpur-born rider went on to win a gold medal in the four-man team 1,600m grass track team trial event at Merdeka Stadium. The quartet, comprising Joo Pong, Conrad Talalla, the late Andrew Michael and the late Jallaludin Yusof, finished in a time of 2:28.1.
Joo Pong, to the uninitiated, is the older brother of another cycling icon, Datuk Ng Joo Ngan.
Joo Ngan is considered the most successful cyclist in Malaysian history, having won the most competitions and at the Asian Games.
But it was Joo Pong who started cycling first in the family and influenced his younger brother to take up the sport.
He retired from the sport after competing in his second consecutive Asian Games in Bangkok in 1970, where both he and Joo Ngan had competed.
After Joo Pong's retirement, his younger brother made his mark in cycling and became a household name.
“I was not athletic and did not like walking when I was young. I was helping my family business, which supplied well water to a village at 4th mile, Old Klang Road,” recalled Joo Pong.
“I was put in charge of the pump for the well, which supplied water to each household in the village from 6am to 6pm for RM6 a month. Each time it rained, I had to switch off the pump in case it got struck by lightning.
“We stayed some distance from the well and village, so to reach the well fast, I would take my father’s bicycle without his knowledge. I used to get a beating for using it and for the many falls I had. But that did not stop me from using the bicycle.”
Joo Pong then urged his parents to buy him a bicycle to go to school in Brickfields, but they refused.
He finally got his first bicycle when he was 12.
“I was presented with a China model, which cost RM75 at the time, for selling the most number of booklets for a Christmas lucky draw in La Salle Brickfields.
The funds were collected for renovations to St John’s Institution in 1959. I sold 60 booklets at RM5 each,” said Joo Pong.
“I then started to cycle everywhere and competed in my first competition in 1960 at my school meet (private school St Anthony) and won the 15-mile race from my school to Sungai Way and back."
Joo Pong had to attend a private school because he did not do well in Bahasa Malaysia in his Standard Six examination.
“I probably did not do well in my exams because I spent too much time selling the raffle tickets,” he laughed.
“Then I used to train in Jalan Duta and met some national cyclists, including N. Rosli, who urged me to compete in a road race. I trained, competed and beat all of them!”
Joo Pong competed in many road and track competitions before taking part in trials for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The trials were over four days from Alor Star to Johor Baru. He made it to the podium in four consecutive legs out of six to earn his Olympic ticket.
Joo Pong said the Olympics were a different kettle of fish with the latest racing bicycles and velodromes, sophisticated equipment and experienced cyclists. He returned richer in experience and exposure.
He had gone to Tokyo with a bicycle his father Swee Long and mother had bought for RM270 from Robinsons Store.
In 1967, Joo Pong suffered a nasty road accident when training alone. He was cycling to Klang when a lorry he was following braked suddenly.
He rammed into it, breaking his jaw and suffering injuries that landed him in hospital for three months.
Once recovered, he started to race and win again, but the accident had taken a toll on him. He wanted to skip the 1970 Asian Games, but decided to keep Joo Ngan company and worked hard to qualify.
“Cyclists these days are very lucky because everything is taken care of, from equipment, coaching, training stints, allowance and handsome rewards. But their results leave much to be desired.
“In fact, our performance in the Asian championships is still standing. We competed for the love of the sport,” said Joo Pong, whose 31-year-old son is an IT programmer.
Upon retiring, Joo Pong became an insurance salesman. He and his brother applied for taxi licences in the 1970s, but Joo Pong only got his after a 30-year wait. And that too thanks to the then Public Enterprises Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, who had read about Joo Pong’s plight in an article by M. Veera Pandiyan in his column Along the Watchtower.
“I am indebted to the reporter and Datuk Seri Nazri for assisting me,” said Joo Pong, who is driving his second taxi after his first was involved in an accident and became a write-off.
“I wrote a letter to Datuk Seri Nazri after learning that he loves sports and at the insistence of the reporter.
“I was a sports enthusiast, so I know of Joo Pong and his brother's exploits in cycling. They made us proud,” Nazri said when he finally met Joo Pong in 2012.
“When I saw a letter from him over 10 years ago asking for a permit, I didn't even have to interview him.”
Asked if his passengers recognise him or even remember his name displayed on the taxi, he replied: “This is a totally different generation.
They are too young to remember me.”
Today, Joo Pong, without fail, still cycles three times a week for an hour at least before he takes his taxi out from 6am to 7am. He then goes on his calls to sell lorries. He drives the taxi again for another two hours in the evening around Shah Alam, where he lives.
During weekends, he would drive his taxi for a few extra hours.
Asked if his back and knee hurt when driving the taxi, he said: “I stopped cycling for ten years and suffered from all sorts of aliments. I got back to cycling and I am much healthier and the pain is much less.
“I will be cycling till my dying day. It is my first love.”