ICON: SAIK OIK CUM
By Tony Mariadass
Pictures by Azneal Ishak
Oik Cum, the 400m wonder
Saik Oik Cum had short but sweet stint as a national athlete leaving behind an everlasting impression which many athletes may find it hard to emulate.
The Penangite donned national colours from 1977 to 1982, but in the five years she took the Malaysian athletics scene by storm and left leaving a trail of results which is much talked about even today.
Oik Cum who turned 55 last month was dubbed the ‘400m wonder’ for her feats.
Oik Cum, may have been at the helm of Malaysian athletics for a short time, but her involvement in the sports goes as far back as her primary school days at the Methodist Girls School.
When she was only 12-years old, her school teacher Mrs Looi spotted her natural abilities despite her frail looking self, before Koay Kok Chiang, a journalist, coached her and athletes from the school.
Before she knew, she was winning medals at her schools and state meet. Her first major race was in 1975 representing Penang in the relay events at the national schools championship where her team won the gold medal.
It was then, coach C. Ramanathan who took charge to coach Oik Cum at the state level and it was his dedication that saw Penang athletics flourish.
“It was coach Ramanathan who asked me to compete in the sprints including the 400m, besides also trying my hand at long jump too,” recalled Oik Cum presently a RHB divisional manager at the headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
“I really enjoyed my days in athletics especially at the national level because we were like a family.
“We were so close to each other that we motivated each other in training and competition. We worked hard for each other and it was a team effort. We had an excellent coach in Ramanathan and I indeed cherish those moments,” said Oik Cum who was the seventh in a family of eight.
“With Zaiton and Angamah and myself all coming from Penang, the island served a great base with Ramanathan based there too. Together with the other athletes, training was a joy.
“Even though we had to train on highways, climb hills and do cross country as part of training and not matter rain or shine, we enjoyed every minute of it.
“We were willing to make sacrifices and our passion for the sports was unquestionable.”
As a schoolgirl she made her first international debut at the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games in 1977 where she won the bronze medal in the 400m in 57.72 while V. Angamah won the silver (56.89). The race was won by Burma’s Than Than (56.29).
At the Asean Schools meet in 1978 in Kuala Lumpur Oik Cum set a new national record in the 200m with her gold medal winning time of 24.7.
But her moment of glory was at the 1978 Asian Games on Bangkok on Dec 17 when the little known bespectacled Oik Cum stunned the athletics fraternity at the Bangkok National Stadium.
Oik Cum blazed through the 400m track as an 18-year-old lass to win the gold medal in her debut Asian Games.
She not only won the gold medal but went to set a new Games record with her timing of 55.09s. Japan’s Keiko Nagasaw finished second in 55.74 while China’s Kao Yenching won the bronze in 56.23.
It was also athletics only gold medal in Malaysia’s three medal haul. Walkers V. Subramaniam and Khoo Chong Beng won the silver and bronze in the 20 km walk.
Oik Cum was named the Sports Girl of the year for her outstanding performance in Bangkok.
The following year saw Oik Cum together with Marina Chin, V. Angamah, Zaiton Othman and Mumtaz Jaafar become then ‘Golden Girls’ of athletics.
At the 1979 Jakarta Sea Games Oik Cum besides winning the silver medal in the 400m, won another silver running together with Marina, Angamah and Mumtaz in the 4 X 100 and to win the gold in the 4 X 400m with Zaiton coming in place of Mumtaz in the relay team.
The same year at the Asian Track and Field in Tokyo the quartet won the silver medal in the 4 X 400m.
1981 was indeed a golden year for Oik Cum and her relay members as they went to bag a double in Manila Sea Games, with victory in both the 4 x 100m and 4 X 400m relay and in national record time (3.43.3) in the latter event which stood for eight years.
The athletics squad had a three-month stint in Perth prior to the Manila Sea Games.
Oik Cum capped it with a bronze medal at the Asian Track and Field championship the same year finishing behind Japan’s Junko Yoshida and Philippines Lydia de Vega and a golden finish in the 4 X 400m.
Oik Cum was also selected to represent the Asian zone for two World Cup in 1979 in Montreal and 1981 in Rome.
Injury and work commitment forced her premature retirement from the national team although she continued to run for her employers – UMBC – in the Inter-Bank meets till 1986.
“I have no regrets of my short athletics career at the national level because I achieved a fair amount of achievement in a short time,” said Oik Cum who is still not married.
“I also had to think of my career and decided that it was good while it lasted in the athletics arena,” said Oik Cum who was posted to Kuala Lumpur for the last seven years.
Although her athletic career and fame were short-lived, she certainly made a name for herself on the tracks which is still remembered till today.
Fittingly she was inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame in in 2006.
But sadly, she was not present to receive the award personally as there was a miscommunication in informing of the event.
“But the award was delivered to me and I am really honoured.”
Asked why she did not get into coaching after her athletics career, she said it was her job commitment.
“I don’t really keep in touch with the sports too because there is not so much athletics coverage in the newspapers. It is all football. But whenever there is any occasional articles I read with interest,” said Oik Cum who looks very much like she used to during her running days.
“But I am sad that with some much given to athletes these days besides all the modern facilities including sports science, top coaches and overseas stints, athletes are not performing to the level they should.”
Maybe Oik Cum will serve as an inspiration to young athletes to emulate her as she has proved that even in a short spell, top level achievements are attainable with the right attitude, discipline and passion.