IT rarely happens but Josephine Mary and Samson Vallabuoy, national middle distance runners in the 80's, have kept the tradition going with their two daughters.
Josephine, 47, and Samson, 48, were products of the Panther athletics club in Ipoh, helmed by national coach K. Jayabalan. The two national athletes married in 1995. Their union produced two daughters -- Jocelyn, 18, and Sheeren, 16, and both have represented Perak in athletics.
Sheeren is currently in Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) and has qualified as a member of the 4x400m relay team for the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, next month.
At the Malaysian Open in Kangar this year, Sheeren won the silver medals in the 400m and 4x400m. She also made her international debut in the Taiwan Open, where she finished fourth.
Jocelyn was a student in BJSS in 2012, but withdrew after five months because of personal reasons. She represented Perak in the 4x100m and 4x400m at the Malaysian Open, winning bronze. Currently, she is a pre-university student in Ipoh.
Josephine, who represented Malaysia in six Sea Games (1983 to 1993), three Asian Track and Field (ATF) championships (1987 to 1991) and two Asian Games (1986 to 1990) still holds the national 800m record set at the Seoul Asian Games in 1986, where she won bronze in a time of 2:07.44.
She also set the 400m record of 52.65s at the 1989 Sea Games, which was bettered by the late Rabia Abdul Salam who clocked 52.56s at the ATF in Manila in 1993.
Samson holds the Sea Games 800m record of 1:48.29 when he beat Isidro del Prado’s record 25 years ago.He was also a member of the 4x400m relay team (Azhar Hashim, Yazid Parlan, Samson and Nordin Jadi) who set a national record of 3:06.53 at the ATF in 1991.
Josephine (white shirt) conducting a training session for junior athletes at Perak Stadium.
Josephine, who worked at Maybank, quit her job in 1997 to become a fulltime housewife. As their daughters grew up, she and Samson coached them in athletics and it no surprise that they soon excelled in the sport.
It was only in 2011 that Josephine, who holds a Level 3 coaching certificate, was roped in as coach by the Perak Sports Council.
Currently, she has 17 young athletes (all girls) training under her at the Perak Stadium six times a week. Samson, who runs a used car and transportation firm near the stadium, assists her whenever he has the time.
Athletics a way of life
“Athletics has been a part and parcel of my life. Now to be able to coach my two daughters to emulate the success of my husband and I is something I cherish,” said Josephine, who was recently in the US as coach of the national junior team at the World Junior championships in Oregon.
“Being able to coach the young talents in Perak means a lot because I want to to give back to the sport by producing a champion or two,” said Josephine, who was one of the coaches at the Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Kangar.
“Josephine is so dedicated to athletics that she turned down a lucrative salary to work for my company,” said Samson.
“As much as I want to be involved in athletics, someone has to work to feed the family. But I still help Josephine in the evenings when I am at the stadium to do my runs,” said Samson.
Sad state of athletics Both Josephine and Samson, however, lamented about the sad state of athletics in the country.
“In our time, the competition was so keen and one had to train very hard to be recognised among the best,” said Josephine, who has the proud honour of being the only female athlete chosen to represent the Asian team at the 1989 World Continental championships in Spain, where she competed in the relay team with the likes of India’s P.T. Usha and Shiny Abraham.
“As much as I am proud that my 800m record still stands after 28 years, I am sad that no one has erased it. It only underlines the poor state of athletics in the country.”
Samson said there were so many middle distance runners in the 80s and anyone of them could have won on their day.
“Today, there are so few athletes. We are in a situation where we do not have athletes to represent in events in the Sea Games. Even at the national meet, many events do not have heats or are scrapped due to the lack of entrants,” said Samson.
Both agreed that the decline started at the schools level, lack of young coaches, opportunities to make athletics a career, poor administration and many having their own agendas.
“There are ultra-modern facilities, sports science, nutrition and rewards to be reaped, yet we cannot find enough athletes who ca excel," said Josephine.
Both Josephine and Samson recalled the days when the government services, interbank, state and national championships were glamourous events which drew bumper entries.
“Today, there is too much infighting (among officials) and very little done for the athletes.
“Coaches, too, are a diminishing breed. However, coaches from our time are still around. We are indeed grateful to them for making us who we were, but we need to see fresh blood with new ideas," said Samson.
But Josephine and Samson said they will continue to do what little they can to help athletics.
Their genes alone will certainly help Malaysia see another champion in either Jocelyn or Shereen.