SEREMBAN: Track and field coach Edwin S. Abraham cherishes the days when everyone cared for each other and meritocracy was the way.
Now 80, the former teacher and stickler for discipline tells of the time when he tried to get a job for A. Ramasamy, an SEAP Games medal winner in the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m events.
The biennial South-East Asian (SEA) Games was first known as the South-East Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games from 1959. It became the SEA Games in 1977.
“I was at a sports meet attended by then Prisons director-general Tan Sri Murad Ahmad.
“Since the Prisons always hired sportsmen, I approached him and asked if he could provide jobs for some of my athletes,” he said.
Murad, he said, agreed to hire Ramasamy.
“Ramasamy would only accept the offer if Prisons would also take in his closest rival, who I only remember as Abu Bakar.
“Much to my delight, Murad agreed and both were hired,” he said with a broad smile.
Abraham said race, skin colour, social status or religion was never an issue whenever he trained an aspiring athlete.
During the SEAP Games in 1965 at the Merdeka Stadium, his female hurdlers Koay Siew Hong and Rajimmah Shaikh Ahmad were up against two athletes from Singapore who had registered better times.
“Before the race, the three of us – a Christian, a Buddhist and a Muslim – held hands and silently said our prayers.
“In the end, both my girls upset their more famous opponents coming in first and second,” said Abraham who was also state Kiwanis Society president and a member of the state Health Council, besides being a legend in 120 yards hurdles and high jump for Negri Sembilan from 1954 to 1962.
He had the uncanny ability to turn raw talent into champions and count among his understudies former greats such as Datuk Marina Chin, J.V. Jayan, Ishtiaq Mubarak, Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, Ramasamy, Harjinder Singh, Zambrose Abdul Rahman and Jessica Low.
He was also among the rare breed of coaches who frequently paid out of their own pockets to help poor students who showed promise.
Seeing his charges on the podium was enough to convince Abraham that his “little investments” were worth every penny.
“Although a teacher’s salary then was just enough to put food on the table for the family, I would always put aside some money to take athletes to meets all over the country.
“I would squeeze eight or nine of them into my Datsun 1000cc and none of them ever complained,” he reminisces.
Abraham, whose well-toned physic belies his age, vividly remembers putting up eight boys in one room in a budget hotel when they were in Malacca for a meet.
He said his charges would always give their best as they knew he had forked out all the expenses.
Abraham, who was instrumental in preparing the national athletics contingent for the SEAP, SEA and Asian Games as well as the Olympics from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, said it always thrilled him to spot a student with potential to be a champion.
“If I had not taken these students, they would have never been able to go. I wanted these students to excel,” said the self-confessed sports addict.
Abraham was also instrumental in the setting up of the Harimau Sport Club.
His former charges still keep in touch with him and recently organised a gathering to celebrate his 80th birthday.
“Nothing makes me happier than being with my children (the former athletes). It makes me very happy that I was able to make a little difference in their lives and I now see the returns to my little investments,” he added.