ICON: R. SUBRAMANIAM
Story and pictures by Tony Mariadass
Listening to Ramasamy Subramaniam how as an estate boy who took up athletics at a late age, trained on his own as a schoolboy athlete to an Olympian in the 60s, one wonders what has gone wrong for Malaysian athletics in this modern age.
The lanky and fit looking Subra, as he is affectionately known, who turns 76 on Oct 24, too was puzzled how after 50 years later, his running times has not been bettered as it should have been.
The former Prisons director, said that it was either that the coaches were not good enough to bring the best out of the athletes, or the athletes do not have what it takes to become a champion.
“Maybe some of the coaches have been around too long and we need fresh blood. But at the end of the day, I put the blame solely on the athletes,” said Subra a teetotaller and who does not smoke.
“With so much advancement in terms of facilities, sports science, nutrition and benefits for athletes have these days, I am puzzled at the state of the athletics these days,” said Subra who ran the 800m and 1,500m and occasionally the 5,000m.
His personal best of 800m is 1.49.5 clocked at the 1966 Asian Games, while his 1,500m best time was 3.48.0 clocked at the 1967 Sea Games in KL. The current national record for 800m is held by B. Rajkumar clocked at the Asian Track and Field championship in Jakarta in 1985 in a time of 1.47.37, while the 1,500m record – 3.45.70 - is held by V. Muthiah clocked in 2007.
Subra is a self-coached athlete who took up athletics at the late age of 18 when he was pushed to the athletics by chance.
“I was a footballer playing in the wings for a local club Puchong Indians. I was fast and it was in 1957 when there was sports meet being organised in Puchong in conjunction of Merdeka Day that some friends of mine encouraged me to take part as I was fast,” recalled Subra the third son in a family of six.
“I ran in the 100m, 200m and 400m and won all with ease. I was the new kid on the block and beat some veterans.
“Suddenly I fell in love with athletics and at first was playing football too. But my interest in athletics was overwhelming and decided to give up football.
“I started to train diligently running around the estates in Puchong and the mining area. I would go to the library in town to read up books on athletics and drew up my own training programme. Without any guidance it was a trial and error method as some of the training used in Europe and top athletes was not suitable for me.
“Besides running weaving in between rubber trees, I also drew lines, stuck stubs as markers on the sands of the mining pool to make tracks and ran.”
Subra then started running in schools meet as he attended a private school – Kishen Lal School – and Selangor.
In the Malayan Combined Schools meet in Penang in1959, he won both the one-mile and half-mile races.
He dropped out of school because of financial difficulties but continued running at the Selangor AAA meet in the 800m and 1,500m and winning them.
It was at the national meet in 1960 in Malacca that his future was charted.
Seeing Subra excelling for Selangor in the meet, the Malacca Prisons director, a Mr Ashe, spotted Rama and sent two officer to meet him.
“They offered me to join the Prisons which had an athletics team. I wanted to think over, but Mr Ashe wanted and immediate answer. He met me and told me to accept and he will take of me,” said Subra who now lives in Kajang.
“My family were not keen to see me leave for Malacca but after much thought and the fact that I could continue to excel in athletics, I decided to join them as a warder.”
The rest is history as Subra not only rose rank and file with the Prisons which saw him serve in Malacca Prison and Henry Gurney School, Taiping detention camp and Kajang, but also excelled in athletics.
His feat in athletics saw him represent the nation at the 1964 Tokyo and 1968 Mexico Olympics, 1962 Perth and 1968 Kingston, Jamaica Commonwealth Games, 1962 Indonesia and 1968 Bangkok Asian Games and five Sea Games – 1961, 1965, 1967, 1969 and 1971.
His highlights include winning seven gold and four silver medals from the five Sea Games including the famous victory over star middle distance champion then Burma’s Jimmy Crampton over the 800m at the 1971 Games in KL and then going on to win the 5,000m, running the race less the half an hour after his 800m race.
His double silver medallist at the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok in the 800m and 1500m is another milestone in his athletics career.
“The double silver in Bangkok was my most memorable moment and also disappointing. Memorable because I won two silver medals. Disappointed because I was also close winning the 800 gold medal but was pipped to the tape by India’s Bhogeswara Baruah,” said Subra who clocked 1.49.5 to Baruah’s 1.49.4.
Subra coming from a generation where Malaysia’s cream of athletes were produced in the likes of Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan, Datuk Nashatar Singh, Datuk M. Rajamani, Dilbagh Singh, G. Rajalingam, T. Krishnan and Karu Selvaratnam to name a few, may be a forgotten name or overshadowed by the achievements of other athletes, but his achievements is something which will stand in the athletics annals forever.
Subra did not have the honour of being named the Sportsman of the Year as the awards was only started in 1966 and it went deservingly to Jegathesan. However, Subra can seek consolation that in 1965 the sports writers named him as the Sportsman of the Year despite strong performances by Jegathesan, Nashatar and Rajamani.
Subra who took an early retirement at the age of 53 when he was about to be transferred to Penang because of his daughter, Subathira’s education, now spends much of his time with his wife Logambal and only granddaughter, six-year-old Thannannee.
When Subra quit running in 1975 – after 18 years - after competing in the national meet, he was coaching with Malacca AAA for three years and was also involved in coaching middle distance runners for the 1975 and 1977 Sea Games. He was the vice-president of Kajang AAA for a while when he moved of Kajang, but now just is a silent observer of athletics.
“I really hope that athletics will return and be even better than in the past, but it just keeps sliding further down,” said Subra with a tinge of sadness.
“I remember the days when I went for the Olympics and only received a daily ‘dhobi’ (laundry) allowance of five ringgit. But we had set personal achievable goals and worked hard to achieve it not expecting any remunerations.
“My only rewards and satisfaction from my athletics career are all these medals and trophies,” said Subra who had diligently kept all medals, trophies, newspaper cuttings and photos all neatly in albums and his trophy cabinet.
Subra is indeed a rare breed of athletes Malaysia produced which the younger generation may never see another born or developed.
Sad but that is the truth and we can only thank Subra and his contemporaries for the golden and wonderful memories.