Icons from the past – Lt Com (Rtd Navy) Karunakarer Selvaratnam
(H) Karu a double international by chance introduction
By TONY MARIADASS
In an era where sportsmen and women have all facilities and opportunities to excel and still there is a dearth of quality athletes, Lt Com (Rtd) Karunakarer Selvaratnam’s achievements is an inspiring story.
The 73-year-old former navy officer is a double international in cricket and athletics and that fact that he was exposed to both sports by chance and yet excelled is indeed remarkable.
Karu as he is known in the sports circle hails from Batu Gajah, Perak, picked up cricket in Sri Lanka when he was ten-years-old and athletics as a 15-year-old.
“My whole family (three boys and a girl) went to Sri Lanka in November 1951 during the school holidays to visit my ailing grandfather,” recalled Karu.
“As it turned out my grandfather got better by the day and what was a holiday trip extended to three years. While my father returned to Malaya (then) because of his work a supervisor at Perak River Hydro Station, we stayed on and I continued my studies at St Anthony’s College in Candy.
“It was here that I was introduced to cricket, a sports widely played in the country.
“I got hooked on it and was good at it too.”
Karu said that his father thought it was about time family returned home three years later and returned to continue his schooling in Anglo Chinese School, Ipoh.
While he continued to play cricket and played for the State team as a schoolboy, he also played badminton and football.
“But I gave up the other sports to concentrate on cricket,” said Karu who was named the Sportsboy of the year in 1958.
First brush with athletics
It was in 1956 that Karu had his first state of running with no formal training.
“I was helping out at the school sports meet mixing drinks, serving and carrying athletics equipment under my teacher Rasa Durai.
“Towards the end of the meet when the 4 X400m relay was the highlight of the meet, Rasa Durai came looking for me, gave me a T-shirt, found me a pair of shorts and asked me to run for my Tagore House, as the regular runner M. Shanmuganathan had injured himself in an earlier race.
“I really did not know what to in the relay race and Rasa Durai told me to run as the second runner and since the field was only 200m, was told to run two rounds and pass the baton to the next runner.
“I just did that and ran the race of my life without looking back and passed the baton on to the next runner. We won the race and I got my first athletics medal.”
Karu said after the race Rasa Durai told him to report to the schools’ sports secretary, Lee Hoo Kiat, who had watched him run and was impressed.
“The next think I knew I was in the schools athletics team and was also doing long jump.”
First taste of hurdling
Karu then went to take up hurdling also by chance.
There was an American coach, Tom Rosandich, under a programme doing talent scouting and was looking for hurdlers.
“This coach came to my school and asked for athletes interested in hurdling to join his coaching clinic. But there was only one or two boys and he looked at me and asked me if I was the one doing long jump. When I said yes, he asked me to join his hurdling clinic,” recalled Karu.
“The next think I knew I was hurdling and was asked to run the 400 hurdles because the hurdles were lower and it suited me better.
“The rest is history as I went on to improve and was representing the State before Malaya,” said Karu who had a personal best of 48.4 for the 400m and 52.7 for the 400m hurdles.
Karu’s most memorable moment was winning the silver medal in the 4 X 400m at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta with Rahim Ahmad, Asir Victor and M. Jegathesan and the gold in the 1965 Sea Games with Asir, Jegathesan and A.S. Nathan.
Karu who had joined the Navy in 1960, had a short athletics career because in 1965 he was offered to attend an officer’s course in England at the Britannia Royal Navy College in Dartmouth.
He made a career decision and quit athletics.
But in that short period, Karu had represented the nation in two SEAP Games winning the 400m hurdles in 1961 and 4X 400 relay at the 1965 Games. He also competed in the 1962 Asian Games and in the 1964 Olympics Games in Tokyo.
In cricket, he represented the nation from 1960 to 1965 and 1978 to 1982 and having captained the team in 1980.
Karu had also represented the Armed Forces in hockey, badminton and football.
Karu after his playing days was involved in coaching at the Navy and Armed Forces.
He made a comeback to athletics for the 1973 Sea Games where he won the silver medal in 400m.
It all happened when he was preparing the Armed Forces team for the national championship and was pacing his athletes for the first 200m in training, but when to finish the 400m ahead as the athletes never caught up with him.
It was then than that his athletes urged him to run in the national championship and won the race too and earned his ticket to the Sea Games at the age of 32. That was his last race. He opted for optional retirement from the Navy in 1987.
Administrative and Managerial positions
Karu has held many administrative post starting as the Sports Officer of the Royal Malaysian Navy from1969-70, Head of Naval Sports Complex (1981-1987), general manager of Royal Selangor Club (1987-1989), secretary of Malaysian Cricket Association (1989-2003) and manager of national cricket team on numerous occasions.
Karu now spend most of his time with his family especially with his seven grandchildren and plays social golf to keep in touch with his friends.
Golf was another sport, Karu picked up as early as 1976 and was a single handicapper at his peak. He now plays an 18 handicap.
Karu also keeps abreast with local sports and like most of the athletes of the past, cannot understand why Malaysian sports have not improved after all these years when sports was already sailing high in the yesteryears.
“With all the facilities, funding, exposure and expertise, it baffles me why Malaysian sports it at such a low ebb.
“But among the reasons I will list for the current state is the poor administration of associations, the right people not in the right place, no proper structure for sports to grow, lowering our standards and the athletes themselves not having the passion to excel.”
However, Karu believes that there is hope for Malaysian sports, if it is done the right way professionally.