Friday, March 11, 2016

Where were the chosen ones?

From left standing, Chris, Marina, Keith and Esther in front


Where were the Podium athletes?

Last Sunday, a sports forum entitled 'Power to inspire' was held at the Kuala Lumpur Country and Golf Club in conjunction with the BMW Malaysian Open.
However, very few athletes, coaches and, sadly, administrators from the Podium Programme attended the forum, which was a crying shame.
That only seven of them, apart from several Paralympic tennis players and a handful of spectators, were present to hear wheelchair tennis champion Esther Vergeer and Ironman triathlon icon Chris McCormack talk about their desire to be champions and the trials and tribulations they faced to achieve their dreams underlines the apathy of Malaysian sportsmen and women.
The small crowd at the Forum
The forum's organiser, Carbon Sports, spent a lot of money on inviting the two sports personalities to share their experiences in the hope that Malaysian athletes would be inspired to fulfil their own dreams. But it was all in vain.
Invitations were sent out to the National Sports Council (NSC) and National Sports Institute (NSI) and despite an initial indication that 50 athletes from the Podium Programme would be present, few showed up.
The disinterest of the NSC, NSI and athletes in the forum only goes to show their lack of seriousness to see Malaysia succeed in the world of sports.
After a colourful and expensive launch of the Podium Programme just last month, a golden opportunity to inspire the athletes through the forum has been lost.
Keith Power, the newly appointed director of high performance, was one of the speakers at the forum, yet he could not garner the support of his own athletes.
Datuk Marina Chin, the Chef de Mission of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, was the moderator of the forum and to have seen that her charges were missing must have surely put a damper on her.
Sports Commissioner of Malaysia, Datuk Zaiton Othman, was sorely disappointed that so few of the Malaysian athletes bothered to turn up for the forum.
“This was a great forum for the athletes; they could have been inspired by what Esther and Chris said about their struggle for glory, their path, their goals and how they handled each phase,” said the former heptathlon champion. 
“During my days as an athlete, we did not have such opportunities.”
True, the forum was held on a Sunday morning but then, sports achievement at the highest level is all about sacrifice.
Indeed, the talks by Esther and Chis were very inspirational and moved many to tears.
Esther, who was paralysed from the waist downwards after a spinal operation at the tender age of eight, took up sports to be relevant to society. It was a struggle all the way but she went on to claim 42 singles and doubles wheelchair tennis Grand Slams and seven Paralympic titles throughout her professional career from 1999 until her retirement in February 2013.
Known as the Dutch grand dame of wheelchair tennis, the 34-year-old Esther started playing tennis at the age of 12 and won some 695 singles and 444 doubles matches.
Chris, who was named “the world’s fittest man” by ESPN in 2013, has won 200, including 12 Ironman, races on the global circuit. He has five International Triathlete of the Year awards.
The 43-year-old former bank officer reached the pinnacle of success through sheer determination, guts and struggle.
Listening to the duo only highlighted how lucky Malaysian athletes were, spoon-fed everything from funds, coaching and top-class facilities to rewards and international exposure in training and competition.
And yet they underperform.
They just do not know what sacrifice and hardship are all about. Many just go through the motions, enjoying the status of national athlete without really giving back to the nation.
Granted, we have a few athletes who are world class. Talk to them and they will tell you that their journey was not plain sailing. They will tell you about their sacrifices and the pain they had to undergo to achieve their dreams.
Simply put, there is no short cut to success; no pain, no gain, as the saying goes.
There is a lot Malaysian athletes need to learn and do before they can compete in the international arena. For starters, they need to be able to express themselves, yearn to learn new things and keep abreast of the latest in training trends.
Being eloquent is something all Malaysian athletes should strive to master as international athletes.
If only our athletes had been present at the press conferences at the BMW Malaysian Open, they would have observed how the international tennis players delighted the media when it came to answering questions and talking about their performance that day.
We did not hear any of the quotes our athletes and officials are famous for: “God willing”, “the ball is round”, “we will do our best”, “I don’t know the opponent”, “hope luck will be on our side” and “we are playing away and it will not be easy”, to name but a few.
Indeed, Power and newly appointed Podium Programme director, Tim Newenham, who incidentally was not present at the forum, have their work cut out for them.
Hope luck will be on their side!

TONY is a sports
journalist with more than
three decades of experience
and is passionate about
local sports.
He can be reached at
Twitter: @tmariadass​​​

One for the album

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