Thursday, October 30, 2008

A reunion for SAAS products

My phone rang a few minutes before midnight while I was surfing the net recently. "Eh, where are you? We are at Haji Zaki's place, he's asking you to come over," said 2006 Asian Games 400m hurdles bronze medallist, Noraseela Mohd Khalid.

Zaki, the former director of development of the National Sports Council (NSC), was to host his son Shahnaz's wedding the following day but Noraseela, like the rest of her former school mates at the SM Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah (SAAS) in Kajang, was told of a reunion of sorts at Zaki's residence.

So there I was, getting re-acquainted with some of the most talented athletes to emerge from SAAS, which was made the centre of excellence for track and field when Zaki was in charge of development at NSC.

Zaki, who retired in 2002, remains a father figure to them all. After more than seven years of intensive training, SAAS were proud to unveil hurdlers Mohd Robani Hassan, Seela, Moh Siew Wei, sprinter Nazmizan Muhamad, decathlete Muhamad Malik Ahmad Tobias, and pole vaulter Roslinda Samsu to name a few, as the No 1 in the country in their respective events, with Seela, Siew Wei, Malik and Roslinda becoming national record holders.

Haji Zaki Abdul Rahman holds court
Former decathlete Muhammad Malik Ahmad Tobias (left), former pole vaulters Yeap Lai Hin and Teh Weng Chang paying attention to the guru
Seela perhaps whispering to the boyfriend, with former quartermiler Masfuzah Abdullah eavesdropping

There was almost 40 ex-athletes, all products of SAAS

Zaki told them to make it a point to meet as often as possible and to keep the sense of camaraderie alive. The SAAS programme was a pilot project that has produced among others Seela (1999 and 2003 SEA Games gold medallist, 2006 Asian Games bronze medallist), Malik (1999 Asian Junior bronze medallist, 1999 and 2003 SEA Games gold medallist), Nazmizan (first athlete to bag the SEA Games sprints double since G. Rajalingam in 1967) and Roslinda (2006 Asian Games silver medallist).

When a new set of office-bearers took over the Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU) shortly after the track and field team bagged 14 gold medals in the 1993 Singapore SEA Games, they were quick to dump three Russian coaches - Dr Edwin Ozolin, Dr Sergei Sidorenko and Oleg Dmitrousenko - for reasons best known to themselves but it gave NSC the opportunity to tap their brains. So the NSC pioneered the SAAS centre, putting Ozolin, a former sprinter and Sidorenko in charge, while Dmitrousenko was tasked to guide hammer thrower Wong Tee Kue. Ozolin is the man behind Seela and Moh's emergence as hurdlers of Asian calibre while Sidorenko moulded Malik into a fine decathlete. "Malik is a fine specimen indeed," Sidorenko once told me.
Malik, sadly, has quit the scene at a relatively young age (he's only 27), bitter for a variety of reasons. Some like former pole vaulter Tajuddin Abdullah and horizontal jumper Ahmad Faizal Salim have been roped into the system as teachers or officials.
"This is the best opportunity for you to share with others what you have learnt throughout your career and your experience at SAAS. Seela for example must be given the necessary assistance so that eventually she can become a good coach. This was one of the conditions imposed on her by the NSC when she was sent to Germany," said Zaki.
Zaki however was skeptical if the Education Ministry could handle the development and training programme of elite athletes at school level.
"I'm sorry to say this but sports is not the Ministry's core business. Although my ex boss (Datuk Wira Mazlan Ahmad) is the Education Ministry's adviser on sports, he alone cannot be fighting the system. The Treasury will never be generous in their financial disbursement to the Ministry because sports is not their reason for being. They have other priorities to think of. Handing over the development aspects of sports to the schools is not going to help. We deliberated on these issues in numerous seminars and conventions when I was still with the Sports Ministry in the 1970s and later the NSC."

P/S: Teh Weng Chang, who competed in the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, told me: "I read your posting on our wedding, I like the heading, Single no Moh...hahahaha. His wife Moh was apologetic for not inviting me to the wedding. "The place was limited lah...". Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) Datuk Sieh Kok Chi often referred to Moh as my girlfriend because I used to cover her and even fought for her inclusion to the Manchester Games.


Anonymous said...

SAAS is the best program to produce champions until KOAM ruin it by showing their colour in politiking. many of us quite the sports because of the koam office barrier who are interested in overseas trip or personal gain rather then athlete being.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Tuan Haji. The name of the ministry is self explanatory. I only hope you will be at the Sports Convention and tell them to their faces.....

Anonymous said...

lu semua orang lu baik bagus beb , tapi banyak juga lu tak baik beb