Monday, September 29, 2008

A legend, bed-ridden

NSC's Zaiton Othman (former Bionic girl) pays a visit to the bed-ridden Sidique
Sidique in his prime was famed for his crouching start
While we are busy preparing for Syawal, spare a thought and offer our prayers to Sidique Ali Merican, sprinter-turned-administrator who is bed-ridden.
Harian Metro carried this laporan Harian Metro on Sunday.

I interviewed Sidique a few years back for the Icon column in the old Malay Mail. Following is the story, for the benefit of the younger generation who do not have an inkling as to who Sidique is and his contributions to the country. For the life of me why is he not a Datuk?

HE was arguably the golden boy of athletics renowned for the crouching start in the early 50s. From champion sprinter to administrator, Sidique Ali Merican's name remains indelibly marked in the Malaysian sporting hall of fame.

Now undergoing rehabilitation after a stroke, Sidique speaks through his wife, Fatimah Shariff, to Mailsport's RIZAL HASHIM.

Mailsport: Can you tell us your background?

Sidique Ali Merican: I was born in Kota Baru although my parents hailed from Penang. Father Dr Ali Osman Merican uprooted the family from Penang to Kelantan to open a new clinic in Kota Baru. At first, I was more into football and rugby. Athletics as a sport then was as remotely developed as the State of Kelantan itself.

MS: So how did you start your athletics career?

SAM: Athletics did not really catch my fancy as races were carnival affairs then. If at all I was caught indulging in it, it would only have been restricted to running between the two goals of the Ismail English School grounds for me to keep fit. I discovered that I could run when I was drafted into my school team, in June 1949. Running barefooted, I clocked 10.3s in the 100 yards. From there on, several teachers recognised my good time and made arrangements for me to run in the first post-war Malayan Amateur Athletics Association championships two months later at the Selangor Club Padang.

MS: That was when your unorthodox starting position first made headlines?

SAM: Yes. I was basically untrained and did not know how to run properly. My start was like a bullock cart coming out of the mud. Instead of going down on my knees when the starter called "on your mark", I crouched at the start of every race. And it landed me into trouble with the starter. It was an experience I could not forget. We were all lined up for the start of the first heat and when the "on your mark" order was given, the other runners got on their knees. I was crouching nervously. Suddenly I noticed the starter was looking annoyingly in my direction and my stance. He seemed to be waiting for me to go down and when I did not, he called for a restart and asked me why I was not following the others. It must have truly surprised him when I said the crouch was my normal position. In the end, he allowed the race to proceed. Armed with a new pair of spikes bought from Singapore following the Kota Baru race, I clocked 10.0s flat in the 100 yards for a new Malayan record which stood until 1958. Later on, I discarded the crouch and took up the blocks which I felt at one time were not comfortable.

MS: How would you describe your first race outside Kelantan and the fact that you were wearing spikes for the first time en route to clocking a new national mark?

SAM: The day was exceptionally hot and my fellow finalists did not even know where I was from. The loud sound of the starter's gun held me back temporarily but I found myself leading the pack of six runners with Singapore's Tan Eng Yoon breathing down my neck. I then became aware of the spikes I was wearing. Eng Yoon and I hit the tape almost the same stride but I knew I had won. It was later announced over the public address system that I was first in a time of 10 seconds flat. I was extremely happy because I was the first Malayan to post the time and the feeling of being on top of the world could not be explained in words.

MS: Were there other moments that you cherished during your short stint as a sprinter?

SAM: Of course. I remember the 9.8s I registered in the 100 yards during the inter-varsity athletics championships in 1952. I was representing the Loughborough College and I beat my European rivals in the final.

MS: Disappointments?

SAM: A few, regrettably. I wanted so much to compete in the British Empire Games (forerunner of the Commonwealth Games) but I was not registered for trials because the Kelantan AAA officials did not turn up at the appointed place. They were watching a football match betweenTerengganu and Kelantan.

MS: When you were made the director of sports with the Sports Ministry in 1981, what was the main thrust of your tenure?

SAM: That we ought to increase mass participation in sports. The Sports Division then lacked credibility, no aims and targets and sense of direction. Then it was made clear that the Ministry became a promoter of sports for all and sports as a way of life, while the National Sports Council (NSC) focus on the elite programme. I made the call to utilise foreign technical experts to raise our standards.

MS: When I last spoke to you in 2001, you said Bukit Jalil in the 60s was full of starfruit trees.

SAM: Yes, it has certainly changed beyond recognition. It is now exclusively for sports ... I'm happy for that. I happened to be part ofthe team that identified Bukit Jalil as the location of the state-of-the-art National Sports Complex in the 1970s. A place where the elite high-performers and the masses could converge.
MS: Thank you for the interview. We pray for your speedy recovery.

SAM: Thank you.


Date/place of birth: Aug 24, 1930/Kota Baru

Family: Married to Fatimah Shariff, sons Dr Ezlan and Shazman

Honours: Malayan sprint champ 1949-1954

Career: Sports organiser of schools in Kelantan, assistant director of sports, director of sports, deputy chef-de-mission to the Montreal Olympic Games 1976, deputy chef-de-mission to the Edmonton CommonwealthGames 1978, organising secretary of the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games 1977, assistant secretary of Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM).

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