A league of their own

  • People
  • Friday, 31 Mar 2017

Datuk Zaiton Othman, Datuk Paduka Mumtaz Jaafar and V Angammah recollect their time at the 1981 SEA games which they call the glorious year for all of them. Sam Tham/Star Publication

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They were the darlings of track and field in the 1970s and 1980s; the Golden Girls of Malaysian athletics. Everyone from that era – especially starstruck schoolgirls – were in awe of the lean, mean running machines that were Datuk Marina Chin, Datuk Zaiton Othman, V. Angamah and Datuk Paduka Mumtaz Jaafar.

For close to two decades, the four represented the nation in regional competitions, bagging gold medal after gold medal, smashing national and competition records for their country.

1989 file photo of Mumtaz Jaafar (centre) beating Singapore's Mona Kunalan (left) and Anita Ali in the 100m at the Selangor AAA. Photo:The Star/Michael H.G. Goh

Chin was practically unbeatable in the 100m and 200m hurdles, Zaiton in the heptathlon, Mumtaz in 100m sprints and Angamah was the 800m champ. And on top of their individual events, they also shone in relay races.

But while the four were fiercely competitive on the track, they were the best of friends off the field.

And judging from the way they greeted each other at this interview last week – hugging each other close as old friends do, reminiscing about “the good old days”, asking after each other’s children and grandchildren (Mumtaz has five!) – that bond remains strong.

“We trained with each other for at least five years and during that time, we travelled all over for competitions and training camps together. Angamah and I also went to (teacher’s training) college together. So, over time we became really close friends. And because we’d spend a lot of time away from home, our families would come and visit us. In the end, we even got to know each others’ families too,” shares Chin, 62, the first woman principal of the Bukit Jalil Sports School and Chef de Mission for the Malaysian contingent at the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur this August.

1982 file photo of Marina Chin working out at the Kampong Pandan Sports Complex in KL. Photo: The Star/David Yeong
1982 file photo of Marina Chin working out at the Kampong Pandan Sports Complex in KL. Photo: The Star/David Yeong

“We were like family,” says 58-year-old Zaiton. “We even used to drink from the same bottle (after training) and we were a truly multiracial and never once thought about our differences ... I never saw Marina as a Eurasian or ...,”

“I’m Chinese lah,” Chin interjects and they all break out in laughter. Their spirit of muhibbah, they point out, existed naturally; there was much unity in their diversity long before the 1Malaysia tag was coined.

These days, the four meet mostly at the weddings of the children of former athletes who were their contemporaries.

Chin, Zaiton and Angamah started their athletic careers in the early 1970s and Mumtaz in 1979. As the youngest in the group, Mumtaz remembers how the others used to “take care” of her at competitions and at training stints overseas.

“It was hard being away from my family but these girls were my sisters. We took turns to cook and we looked out for each other,” says Mumtaz, 55, placing her hand on Angamah’s arm.

For the love of sports

If there was one thing that bonded them, it was their drive to do their nation proud. They trained hard and their performance on the track was testament of their commitment.

1983 file photo of Zaiton Othman.
1983 file photo of Zaiton Othman.

“We ran and ran and ran. And by the end of it all, we were exhausted,” shares Mumtaz who at one point shared the women’s 100m record of 11.9 seconds with Chin.

They also shared a strong solidarity. Mumtaz recalls reining in that support just minutes before her 100m race at the 1981 SEA Games.

“I was standing next to the Indonesian runner and she warned me that she was going to win. She said she’d trained in Germany and she was going to beat me. She was trying to psych me out and to be honest, she did. But then I thought of my coach and my team mates who were all behind me. I thought of my family and my nation who were counting on me and I just ran. I didn’t break the record but I won!” says Mumtaz, her voice ringing with pride.

They were propelled by their love of sports and their country. In every race and at every meet, they were determined to give their best; they never minded the hours of training they had to endure.

“We really did it because of our love for athletics. It was just that and we derived so much joy from it. We never had monetary rewards or anything of the sort. Whenever we did well, we were given maybe a small token,” says Angamah, 63, to which Chin sits up in protest.

“Token? Was there something you all got that I didn’t?” she asks, to which they all laugh.

Angamah explains, “We did very well at the 1981 SEA Games in Manila - especially the women.

1981 file photo of V. Angamah. Photo: The Star/Lew Yong Kan

“We broke the national records and SEA Games records and our Chef De Mission at the time, the late (Tan Sri) Mohamad Rahmat was so impressed that he bought us each a piece of Barong material (embroidered cloth made from pineapple fibre). We really didn’t expect anything,” she says.

Chin didn’t take part in the Manila Games as she was studying in the United States – hence the reason she missed out on the “token” her sisters received.

But material and monetary rewards were never the incentive. Their rewards were always more personal. “My incentive to do well was to be selected for the next competition just so that I could travel with these girls again and again,” says Chin.

And, they definitely didn’t do it for the publicity, says Zaiton.

“After we ran, we were just exhausted. We sometimes didn’t even realise we’d won ... we couldn’t even feel our buttocks! And any photo of us were of us looking exhausted,” she says in all frankness.

Their achievements

Datuk Marina Chin was known as the “track queen” because she was not only the country’s fastest woman sprinter and hurdler but South-East Asia’s fastest as well. She was Sportswoman of the Year two years running – in 1976 and 1977. In 1979, she won two more gold medals at the SEA Games in Jakarta for the 100m hurdles and 4X400 relay event.

V. Angamah made her international debut when she was just 15. She was a rising star but took a break in 1971 to focus on her MCE (equivalent to SPM) examinations. Angamah only rejoined the national squad in 1977.

Her best year was in 1981 when she won the 4x400 team event at the Asian Track and Field competition in Tokyo and three golds at the SEA Games in Manila for 4x100m, 4x400m (with Zaiton, Mumtaz and Saik Oik Cum) and the 800m in which she set a national record.

Datuk Zaiton Othman still holds her 36-year-old heptathlon record. That’s why she was known as the “Iron Lady” of athletics because of her domination in the gruelling event. She won three SEA Games gold medals for heptathlon and was the 1982 Sportswoman of the Year.

Sprint queen Datuk Paduka Mumtaz Jaafar was named Sportswoman of the year in 1981 and at one point held the 100m record of 11.9 with Chin. She won the gold for the 100m race at the 1981 SEA Games, as well as for the 4x100m and 4x400m (with Zaiton, Angamah and Saik Oik Cum).

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A league of their own


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