Anthony Edwin Abraham was just a state athlete but his passion for athletics was overwhelming.
Edwin, who turns 81 on May 25, was a track and field athlete representing Negeri Sembilan from 1954-1962 in the 120 yards hurdles and high jump winning medals at the National Athletic Championship.
Not being able to break into the national scene Edwin decided to do the next best thing to be still actively involved in athletics – he decided to try his hand at teaching Physical Education and attended the Special Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI) in 1962.
Upon his graduation he was posted to teach in various districts in Negri Sembilan where he coached the school athletes.
But Edwin wanted to do more and wanted to be involved with the Negri Sembilan Amateur Athletics Association (NSAAA). However, he was shunned away by officials in the association.
Not to be easily discouraged, Edwin vowed to make it good in coaching and setup the Harimau Sports Club together with another teacher, Sidney Anantha in 1963.
While Sidney handled the administration, Edwin was involved in coaching and had athletes coming from Port Dickson, Lenggeng, Tampin, Rembau, Tampin and any other districts attend his coaching sessions.
STTI was the foundation
“Attending the STTI was the best decision I made because I learnt a great deal especially in coaching athletics,” said Edwin who has aged but the sparkle in his eyes when talking about athletics was bright as ever.
“We managed to train many athletes and competed in road races in Malaysia and Singapore. And soon our club – Harimau – who were instantly recognised by the black T-shirt we wore with the Tiger head, and were among the top athletics clubs in the country. The others being Lights, Jets, Panthers, Pelando, Comets and Kancil.
“But because of financial constraints we could not sustain the club after seven years and thankfully Negri Sembilan Chinese Recreation Club (NSCRC) and their secretary Tan Chin Beng, adopted the entire Harimau athletes in 1971.”
NSCRC went rule athletics for another eleven years, before financial problems, finally saw the demise of this athletics club.
Among the athletes who were developed during this period include J. V. Jayan (decathlon), A. Ramasamy (1,500m,5000m &10,000), Harginder Singh (marathon), Zambrose Abdul Rahman (400 hurdles), C. Sathasivam (5000m) C. Cinathamby (5000m), late K. Nadarajah (400m), late K. Maruthia, V. Gaasamy, Datuk Zainal Abdin Ahmad (400m) and Syed Omar Syed Ahmad (400m,800m) to name a few.
Edwin was also known to help athletes secure jobs in the civil service so that they could continue their athletics career.
He also frequently paid out of his own pocket to help poor students who showed promise.
Athletes who have trained under him only have accolades for him and believe that coaches like him are hard to come by these days.
“Athletics in Negri Sembilan is in the doldrums because of lack calibre coaches like Edwin who had the passion, drive and dedication to bring honour for the state and country unconditionally,” said former athlete Sathasivam.
Coaching at national level
In 1973, Edwin wanting to pursue his coaching further and applied to join the Ministry of Youth and Sports and this was where he had the opportunity to coach national athletes.
It was with the Ministry too he opportunity to undergo a six months advanced course in Organisation, Administration and Management of Sports in Moscow.
Soon Edwin was a regular figure at the Kampong Pandan Sports Complex every evening after work, coaching national athletes.
Edwin coached several athletes in the SEAP Games contingent for 1965, 1967, 1971 and Sea Games contingent for 1975, 1977 and 1979. He was also involved in training and preparing athletes for the Asian Games in 1966, 1970 and 1974 and the 1968 Mexico, 1972 Munich and 1976 Montreal Olympics.
One of Edwin athlete was three time Olympian 110m hurdler the late Isthiaq Mubarak and Datuk Marina Chin whom he coached for the 1977 SEA Games who was awarded the Sports Women of the Year in 1977 and 1979.
Edwin had played a key role in the comeback of Isthiaq after his misfortune of a near-fatal road accident on October 13, 1970, which saw him spend the rest of the nine months fighting his way back to fitness.
It was Edwin who went to Isthiaq’s home in Temiang in Seremban and brought him out to slowly but surely working his way to recovery.
“The surgeon had told Ishtiaq he would never hurdle again, but Isthiaq was a determined and disciplined athlete who fought all odds to return to the scene,” said Edwin with tears welling from his eyes.
“I am blessed to have worked with him.”
Most memorable success
“I have been lucky that I had a great set of athletes who came under me. I just fine tuned them and it was their hard work, determination and believe in themselves which saw them achieve success,” said the modest Edwin.
Edwin said his most memorable moment in coaching was coaching hurdlers to win five gold medals in five hurdles event at the 1977 Sea Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia won gold medals in the men’s 110 hurdles (Isthiaq) and 400m hurdles (Sumit Bolkiah) and women’s 100m and 200 hurdles (Marina) and 400m hurdles (Jessica Lau).
“It was great feeling to have assisted Malaysia to five gold medals in all hurdles events. The drama that surrounded in winning the fifth gold medal, made it even more special.
“Going for the fifth gold medal in the women’s 400m, Marina was going for her third gold. I was confident that she will win it, but I want her to do one better – to better the Asian record,” recalled Edwin.
“She promised to do her best and as the race began, she shot off to the lead and was doing well. Then, on the seventh hurdle, Marina tripped and fell and lay on the ground.
“There was no one attending to her and the late MAAU president Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie and I jumped across the railing and run to her aid amidst protests from technical officials as coaches and officials were not allowed onto the track.
“We did not see who won the race, but soon found out that Malaysia had won then fifth gold after all through Jessica and we were elated.”
Edwin revealed that Rahim Razali (RTM sports commentator now Datuk) and had called him to request for Marina to put in car he was sending and sent to RTM for an interview.
Edwin instead bundled Jessica in the car and sent her instead of Marina.
“Yes Marina had missed her third gold, but it was Jessica who won.”
Edwin revealed that Jessica was very angry with him for not being there when she crossed the tape and instead was attending to Marina.
“It was after a few years before Jessica actually spoke to me. It was at a meet in Jakarta that Jessica opted to stay back in the camp and wanted to talk to me instead of going for a walk with the other athletes.
“She asked me why I was not there when she won the gold medal. I explained that I had an injured athlete on the track and it was my duty to attend to her.
“I also told her that I was very proud of her to have gone on to win the fifth gold medal and also that I had sent her for the interview with Razali despite him requesting for Marina, because she was the deserving winner who needed to highlighted.
“We buried the hatchets and became friends again.”
Edwin for his coaching exploits was also rewarded in representing Malaysia in the World Athletic Congress at Patiala, India in 1977 and the Asia Track and Field Congress at Tokyo in 1979.
In 2001 Edwin was awarded by the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union (now Malaysian Athletic Federation) as the best athletics coach in Malaysia.
Edwin married to Doris D’Silva, a former headmistress from Rahang Convent, now spends most of his time with daily routine by doing some brisk walking with some gym workout to keep fit a the Royal Sungai Ujong Club in Seremban.
The father of three – Andrey, 48, Adrian 50 and Auria 45 – did not see any of his children involved in athletics, but Andrey played cricket for the national team for six years.
For all the dedication and passion Edwin had poured out to athletic, he was fittingly bestowed the Darjah Setia Bakti Negri Sembilan (DBNS) which carries the title Datuk, in conjunction with the 67th birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir on Wednesday.
Congratulations Datuk Edwin Abraham.