Under the watchful eyes of Sabapathy
By Tony Mariadass
Pictures by: Azneal Ishak
In an age where hardly anyone does anything for free, especially in the field of sports, Olympian Sabapathy Sinnayah, has tirelessly with a few fellow coaches out of sheer passion been coaching about 30 athletes for free in Seremban for the last six years.
Sabapathy, who turned 68 on November 30, represented Malaysia in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a member of the 4 X 100m and 4 X400m relay team, started his athletics training programme on Sundays at the Tamil School in Lobak and has since moved to his alma mater St Paul’s Institution has the programme gained popularity.
Together with coaches R. Mogan (former national walker), P. Tamilselve (former Penang athlete) and S. Segamani, they diligently train about 30 athletes for two hours starting from 8am every Sunday. On week days many of the athletes are part of the State schools programme at SMK Bukit Mewah where Mogan is coach under NS Negri Sports Council.
|Setting it for training...from left coaches walks coach R. Mogan, S. Segamani and Sabapathy sets up equipment before training.|
“I started this programme as I wanted to give something back to the sport. Although I am late starter at athletics, it has grown to be my passion,” said Sabapathy.
Sabapathy’s desire to give back something to the sport probably stems from the fact that he was introduced to the sport by man who took him under his wings – Mubarak Ahmad - a senior police officer in the 50s and a former Malayan sprinter and president of FMAAU (predecessor of MAAU and now MAF).
Mubarak was the father of late Olympian hurdler Ishtiaq Mubarak.
Sabapathy lost his mother, Letchumy, not even knowing her as a one-year-old. It was then Sabapathy was brought up by Ishtiaq’s parents, with whom the former’s father was working for as a caretaker at their home.
“I owe my athletics career to Ishtiaq’s father Mubarak. I was brought up by their family until the age of eight in Seremban before he was transferred to Selangor. Only then did I went to live with my father in Lobak.
“Although I grew up with Ishtiaq, I was not good at athletics. I left school after Form Five in 1965 and was looking for a job. After two years in search for a job in vain, I decided to contact Mubarak to assist me to get a job in Selangor.
“Mubarak asked me to come to Selangor and I stayed in his house again and used to follow Isthiaq for his athletics training at the Police Depot. It was then that Mubarak asked me to train with Isthiaq and started to take a liking for the sport. I joined the Jets Athletics Club and that was the beginning of athletics career.
“With the assistance of Mubarak, I also managed to get a job with Tenaga Nasional (then Lembaga Letrik Negara – LLN) where I worked for 12 years. I started to represent Selangor in the 200m, 400m and relay team before going on to represent the nation.”
Sabapathy said the coaches in his programme all come on a voluntary basis for the love of athletics.
“I am indeed grateful to them for having managed this programme for the last six years.
“We source for donations and sponsors to get equipment for training and also running shoes and attire for the athletes.
“Among the sponsors who have been kind to us include Datuk James Selvaraj (Bata), Datuk Malek Noor (UFL), SPI who let us use the field for training for free IR N. Ramamurthi who assisted to get some funding from the Education Welfare Research Foundation(EWRF) and a few personal friends. But we certainly could do with more assistance.”
The children bring their own drinks and certainly a drink sponsor and even some nutrition sponsorship will assist them in a long way.
Nestle hearing about the plight of the club is already looking into assisting them with their nutritional drinks during their training sessions.
Sabapathy said only late last year they have registered themselves as an athletics club – Falcon Athletic Club – with the Sports Commissioner’s office.
Asked why he choose the name Falcon for the club, he simply replied: “Falcons are the fasted moving creature in the face of earth.
Falcons have thin, tapered wings, which enable them to fly at high speed and to change direction rapidly and have been recorded diving at speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h).
“We hope as a registered club now, we will get some assistance especially from sponsors,” said Sabapathy the president of the newly formed club.
“There are many talented athletes in the programme who have the potential to make a name for themselves. I have athletes coming from as far as Port Dickson. Some athletes I had personally gone to schools nearby to ask them to come and join the programme, while many have come on their own after hearing about the programme.
“Parents have taken a keen interest in the programme, especially mothers who bring their children for the programme and wait here before taking them home,” said the father of three daughters and two grandchildren.
The programme has several senior boys who have competed in the Malaysia Games and among them are R. Eswaran (20Km walk), R. Thevan (long distance runner) and R. Premkumar (walks).
But it is the development programme which has attracted many athletes many of them who are already representing their respective schools and at the district level.
Sabapathy also has a programme for grassroots development of athletes from the age of seven to ten, many of whom who have tremendous potential to make the grade soon.
Indeed, Sabapathy has got something good going and if only more ex-athletes are passionate like him and assist in the development of sports, many more athletes will be discovered.
Sabapathy made his debut for the nation at the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games as member of the 4 X 400m relay squad, but although the team won the bronze, he did not run as he was relegated to a reserve. Then in the Kuala Lumpur 1971 Seap Games he had the misfortune of pulling a muscle in the 100m race and had to withdraw from the relay squad.
It was only at the 1973 Singapore Seap Games that Sabapathy finally tasted glory when the 4 X 400m quartet comprising P.L.B. S. Payadesa, Harun Rashid, Hassan Omar and himself won the gold medal in 3:15.4.
Sabapathy also won a silver in the 200m clocking 22.3 to finish behind Thailand’s A. Ratanpol (21.6).
At the 1975 Bangkok Seap, Sabapathy won two bronzes medals - in the 4 X 200m running with Peyadesa, Ramli Ahmad and Zainuddin Wahab in a time of 1:26.5 and the 4 X 400m (Marariah Naidu, Peyadesa, Muthiah Dattaya and Sabapathy). The 4 X 200m was won by Thai quartet of Boontud Somsakdi, Suchart Jaesuraparp, Ratanapol and Paratanavong Sayun in 1:25.0 while Singapore’s quartet of C. Kunalan, Quah Kim Tiong and Yeo Kian Chye won silver (1.25.9). In the 4 X 400m it was Singapore who won the gold.
For the 1972 Munich Olympics, Sabapathy trained in US and Germany with his relay mates Peyadesa, Hassan and T. Krishnan who had a finally ranking of sixth for the time of 3:13.51.
After his athletic career, Sabapathy was the Federal Territory coach from 1985-1996, Selangor Sports Council development coach from 1997 to 2006 and Federal Territory chief coach for a year with the Sukan Teras programme.
Sabapathy was an executive with Ex-National Athlete Foundation (YAKEB) from 2009 till two months ago.
Although currently without a job, Sabapathy has not shirked on his passion to continue to assist the athletics community in Seremban.
Sabapathy is indeed a rare gem in the athletics community.