Saturday, January 3, 2015

From rubber sheet rolling to Iron Lady

In the Malay Mail Icon column today



Datuk Zaiton Othman maybe frail looking, but her achievements in both athletics and academia speaks volumes of her dedication.
Her strength lies with her childhood when she used to help her late rubber planter father, Othman Hj Che’Meh, roll the rubber sheets processor.
Her athletic prowess was discovered by her school teacher Mr Chin of St George’s Girls School in Penang during a strength testing exercise.
“The teacher asked me to throw the discus and I throw it into the drain. He immediately called me and asked me where I got the strength despite being a frail looking person. He asked to see my hand and noticed that I had muscles on both my arms,” said Zaiton adding the muscles were due to helping her father at Paya Keladi, Kepala Batas home.
“He asked me how I developed the muscles and I told him that it was from helping my father roll the rubber sheets. I was then asked to compete in all the throw events,” said Zaiton.

Early days and the rise
Zaiton Othman currently the Director of the Organizational Development and Athletes’ Affairs Department at the National Sports Council of Malaysia, in heydays as an athlete is best remembered for her prowess in the heptathlon (a track and field combined events contest made up of seven events namely 200 metres, 800 metres, 100 metres hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot putt and javelin throw).
But success did not come instantly.
“I was in Form One in 1973 and competed in the 800 metres Open event at the state schools championship. I had finished in a photo-finish with another athlete, Betty Chee and had set a record too. But when the announcement was made, the record I set was not mentioned but only Betty’s. Only the top athlete qualified for the national schools championship and I was very disappointed,” recalled Zaiton.
“But I continued to train on own and the schools athletics coach who was also a starter at competitions, Lionel Rajamoney, saw me training and saw my potential and encouraged me to keep up my good work and said that I would be national material in two years.
“I trained hard and was determined to make the national schools championship in 1974 which I did and next donned national colours too.”
She has brought glory to Malaysia by winning multiple medals and setting several national records, in numerous competitions in track and field, namely, the South East Asia (SEA) Games and the Asian Games. She has also competed in many Asian Track & Field Championships and also a Pre-Olympic Games known as Spartakiade, Moscow in 1979.
Her best performance was in the SEA Games XI, Manila in 1981 where she won three gold medals in the heptathlon, 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relay creating new national records in all the three events and also setting an all-time Asian best in the 4 x 400m relay. The heptathlon record set in 1981 at the Manila Sea Games is currently the longest standing record and is still yet to be broken in Malaysian Track & Field.

The record stands at 5175 points from her effort in 14.70s (100 m hurdles), 1.67 m (high jump), 9.39 m (shot put), 25.96 (200 m) 5.58 m (long jump), 40.80 m (javelin) and 2:23.26 (800 m).
Zaiton first made her mark at the national level when she competed at the 10th Sea Games in Jakarta in 1979 in the 4 X 400m relay where they won the gold medal with a new record and also won the silver medal in the javelin throw.
She went on to win the silver medal with the 4 X 400 with a new national record at the Asian Track and Field championship in Tokyo.
Her athletic career started representing her school at state level from 1973 to 1977, before representing Penang at the national schools level from 1974 to 1976.
She went on to represent her state at the national championships from 1974 to 1989 while she represented the nation from 1974 to 1989.

Track queens from left V. Angamah, Mumtaz Jaafar, Saik Oik Cum and Zaiton with coaches (right) C. Ramanathan and Tamin Merican (left) at training camp at the Western Australian Sports Institute in Perth preparing for the 1981 Manila Sea Games.
From left: Angamah, Mumtaz, Zaiton and Oik Kum in training in Perth in 1981
Zaiton who turns 56 on May 3, is also an example to budding athletes that there is a career after sports.
“It is all about time management, the desire to excel and dedication,” said Zaiton a mother of eleven-year-old daughter.
Zaiton started off as a clerk with the National Electricity Board during her early years in athletics for a year from 1978.
She then served the Ministry of Education as a teacher for two years from 1981 before pursuing her studies at University Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) where she majored in physical education and minor in health science in 1987.
Graduation day Zaiton with her late parents Fatimah Sanawi and Othman Hj Che'meh
She then re-joined the Union High School in Penang as a teacher and taught physical education, health science, civics and Bahasa Malaysia from 1987 to 1989.
In September 1989, Zaiton joined the National Sports Council as a sports officer.
In 1992, she attained a Masters in Physical Education (Applied Sports Psychology) from the San Diego State University, California, USA in 1992 and served as a graduate teaching assistant at the same University.
She was back at NSC in 2000 and rose to her present rank.
As a student Zaiton was also bright winning several awards which included recipient of the UPM chancellor's gold medal award for being the overall best student for the graduation year 1987, awarded the Teoh Teck Lee’s Gold medal by the Physical Education Association of Malaysia for being the best PE student for the graduation year of 1987 and overall best student at the Specialist Teachers’ Training College Graduation Year 1980.
She has also presented numerous seminar papers and presentations both locally and at international level on topics ranging from sports psychology, women in sports, promotion of women sports and the athlete, coach and association relationship, motivation.

For her outstanding achievements in athletics, she was voted as Malaysian Sportswoman of the year 1982.

She was also Sportswoman for Penang State in 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1989.
Zaiton was awarded the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) certificate of merit for contribution in the development of track and field in 1988.
After her retirement from competition, she continued to be active as a coach and administrator at national level in athletics. She was appointed the Chef de Mission of the Malaysian contingent to the 4th World Women Islamic Games Tehran in 2005 and the Deputy Chef de Mission to the South East Asian Games – Bangkok Thailand in 2007.
She currently serves as a committee member of the Women & Sports Committee of the Olympic Council of Malaysia.
She is also the winner of the OCM Women & Sport Award 2009 in recognition of her significant efforts and contribution in promoting and developing Women & Sport in Malaysia, IOC Achievement Diploma in 2010 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Women & Sport Award for Asia for the year 2012.
She was also inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame in 2012.
Zaiton being an all-rounder in athletics, also showed her prowess in other sports like hockey, netball, softball and volleyball where she had represented state, national and university level.
Indeed, Zaiton has completed the full cycle as a complete athlete to a sports officials with all the awards to add icing to her illustrious athletics career.

Future of women athletes
Women athletes have come a long way since over the years and it is only a matter of time before a woman wins Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal.
When Malaysia first made their appearance in the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 – a year before the Independence Day, there was only one rose among the thorns in the 33-member squad – Annie Choong in athletics.
But over the last 57 years, Malaysian women have blossomed into a respected force in local and international sport and are major medal winners at Games.
 “Malaysian women athletes are making waves in international stage. We already have several stars in our ranks and will not be surprised if the first Malaysian Olympic gold medallist is a woman,” said Zaiton
“The good news is that there is so much room for women to improve as far as sports is concerned. Their true potential has not been tapped yet,” said Zaiton.
Zaiton however, hoped that women would continue to scale greater heights.

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