ICON: DATUK NASHATAR SINGH SIDHU
By Tony Mariadass
Datuk Nashatar Singh Sidhu a late discovery in sports, his involvement in rugby, athletics and golf were all by chance.
But there was no looking back for Nashatar who turned 76 on Wednesday (Aug 19) who proved that with little knowledge of the sport, even a late starter can make the grade if one had the passion, discipline and goal to become the best.
The former police officer, excelled in athletics to the highest level – competing in two Olympics (1964 Tokyo and 1968 Mexico), while in rugby he represented the nation.
In golf, which he picked up at his later age, he had a 12-handicap despite just playing socially.
Nash, as he his popularly known, was born in Punjab and after coming to Malaya with his father Modan Singh, he was brought up in Ipoh.
“My involvement in sports was all by accident and chance. I was not playing any sports until I was in Form Four in Anderson School,” said Nash who was the third generation who served the Police Force after his father and grandfather.
“It was the headmaster of Anderson School, a Welshman, Dr G.E.D. Lewis, who had come to my class as a relief English teacher one day. At the end of the class, he asked every student in the class what sports were we involved.
“When it came to my turn, I told him I was not involved in any sports activities. Looking at me standing a towering 6’3, he told me to report to the rugby team in the evening.
“I told him I had to cycle 14 kilometres from my home to come to school and to come back again in the evening would be difficult. He simply told me that if I can cycle to school daily, I can surely cycle back again for sports.
“So that evening I came back to school for my first training session of rugby without a clue of the rules of the game.
“Lewis who was coaching the team, just told me to tackle a tackle a player. I did on four different players and everyone one of them was floored,” recalled Nash and let out his boisterous laughter.
“I was in the school team and when I said I did not the rules, I was just told to pass the ball behind,” said Nash who played as a lock-forward.
The rest was history as Nash went to play for the Perak state team which comprised mainly of Europeans and then the Perak All Blues team which only comprised of locals and went to win the All Blues title beating Singapore in the final at the Merdeka Stadium in 1957.
He soon earned the title ‘King of the lineout’.
He then went to play for Selangor, Police and the national team which he captained from 1957 to 1961 before injury forced him to retire from competitive rugby.
Nash’s involvement in athletics was equally interesting when he was asked to represent his school house (Sultan) in the inter-class athletics meet to win points.
“I ran the hurdles, did the high jump, triple jump and also took part in shot putt and javelin too.
“It was in javelin that I did well when I threw far.
“I was asked to represent the school, schools state team and then the state.
“I was an instant hit in javelin, although with any proper coaching or technique. There were times when I suffered from tennis elbow because of using the wrong technique.”
Nash said it was only in 1962 at Malaysian Open athletics championship in Ipoh that he finally managed to get some tips for his javelin throw.
“There were several overseas javelin throwers among them from Australia and Pakistan,” recalled Nash.
“I was really impressed at the way they threw the javelin and even though many of them were not as well built as I am, they managed better distances.
“The Pakistan thrower, Mohd Newaz, matched the European throwers and I decided I will seek his advice,” said Nash who did not do well in the event.
“Newaz obliged to give me some tips provided I took him for dinner. So I did and Newaz explained to be about steps, timing and the art to throw.
“With this information I practiced hard and was improving.”
At his debut Asian Games in Bangkok 1966, he won the gold medal while Newaz finished fourth. He achieved the feat with a new record of 72.92m.
“It was most memorable moment because I had come to the Games as a nobody and won the gold,” said Nash proudly who went to win the bronze medal at the 1970 Games.
Nash won six gold medals at the Sea Games (1963 to 1975), finished fourth at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica besides dominating the national championship.
He also competed in shot putt won gold at the 1967 and 1969 Sea Games.
He won the silver medal at the first Asian Track and Field championship in 1973.
Nash also has the honour of being the national contingent's flag-bearer for 10 straight years which included three Sea Games (1967, 1969, 1971) and Asian Games (1970) besides other events.
“Those days we did not have coaches or much assistance for the associations. We had train on our own and get as much information on the techniques of excelling in the sports through reading or from other experienced athletes. We also had to train on our own,” lamented Nash.
“I remember when Jegathesan (Tan Sri M. Jegathesan), R. Subramaniam and myself were sent for training and competition to Russia and Germany as preparation for the 1968 Olympics. We were given a token some of money and were supposed to manage.
“We did not have any team officials and the three of made all arrangements for internal travel, accommodation, training grounds, entering ourselves for competition and cooked our own food as food was expensive.
“We did well and had no complaints at all.
“These days the athletes have everything provided for from A to Z and yet they still cannot perform or have complaints.”
Nash said that he was lucky that his rugby and athletics season did not clash and we managed to compete in both.
“But more importantly, my rugby training and competition served as a conditioning for my athletics. And rugby also built my character to be an extrovert. The esprit de corps in the sport was the key factor in shaping me.”
Nash advised that athletes competing in individual sports, should also compete in a team sports to bring the best out of them.
As for golf, he picked it up at the Police Training Centre where he was the adjutant in 1972.
“A senior officer Jerry Toft was hitting the ball at the Pulapol ground and invited me to try and hit. In my first hit, I broke his club,” laughed Nash.
“I not only bought him a club, but decided to try the game,” said Nash who was involved in the building of the PDRM Titiwangsa Golf Club.
“I won the first two competition I competed after being given a 22 handicap, I managed to drop to 12, before I had to leave for Germany for a training course,” said Nash who only plays social golf these days.
Nash’s dedication to sports is unquestionable that he even neglected his family - his wife Parkash Kaur four children – Harminder Singh, Amreet Kaur, Manjeet Kaur and late Nakesh Singh.
“I used to spend most of my time on the field or office as athlete, sports official, coach or police officer,” said Nash with a tinge of sadness.
“I am not complaining from what I have achieved as an athlete, a sports officials, coach or police officer. But I just wished I had spent more time with my family,” said Nash who started work as a court interpreter for two and half years in Ipoh before joining the Police Force as a probationary inspector in 1962.
He retired with rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner and held the post of Deputy Director of Internal Security and Public Order.
His most bitter moment was when his son Nakesh passed away in 1987 after a short illness.
But Nash took it has fate and carried on with life and even after his athletics career as an athlete, he continued to contribute as a coach and official.
He was first the Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU) vice-president and then coaching chairman from 1978 to 1993.
Nash was also involved for the 1998 Commonwealth Games hosted by Malaysia as the Director of Operations.
These days besides him going occasionally to the driving range and playing social gold, he spends most of his time with his grandchildren.
But Nash who was inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame in 2004 has certainly made his mark as a rugby player, athlete, police officer, sports administrator and coach – indeed a difficult act to emulate.