HE sauntered into the cafe for this interview, easy gait and all, always with that sunny disposition. Yes, Kumaresan Murugayan, Malaysia’s former cycling ace, had a lot to smile about.
He carved out a highly successful 17-year cycling career, but life after the limelight was not a bowl of cherries as he suffered a failed restaurant venture and other business hiccups.
Fortunately, his luck changed over the last decade. He now runs a Perodua dealership in Klang as well as a security firm. Over the last five years or so, Kumaresan also carved a niche for himself as a cycling and running race organiser.
In February this year, he was named one of the two deputy chef de missions for the upcoming SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, a post he deeply appreciates and wants to do his best.
Unlike many others, Kumaresan chose to retire from the sport when he was at the top of his game.
“I retired in 1998 after the Commonwealth Games. I was 31 and realised that for cyclists, once you are in your 30s, you are over the hill.
“I wanted to retire when I was at the top and not when people start asking you to retire,” said the 50-year-old.
“Life is a bit difficult after a career in sports. There were many trials, errors and problems.
“If you have a degree, it is easy to get a job,” he said.
However, he has no regrets about his cycling career.
“I wanted to be a sportsman to represent Malaysia, which was my main target, ” he added.
While many former sportsmen turned to coaching after their careers ended, Kumaresan chose to be different.
“I wasn’t interested because you have to go through the same routine such as waking up early in the morning.
“If your trainees are doing well, you are fine but if they fail suddenly, your contract will likely be terminated,” he said.
Kumaresan also spoke briefly about his involvement in politics from 2002 to 2009.
“I was an MIC Youth secretary, which was a fairly high position. I was active for seven years, but not anymore,” he said.
On the leisure side, he had a fling with golf.
“I had a handicap of seven and was a member of the IOI Golf Club. I had my share of hole-in-one, albatross (now known as double eagle) eagles. But I stopped seven years ago,” he said.
The upcoming SEA Games will bring special meaning to him, having participated in seven Games and winning 19 medals, including nine golds.
“My duties will be mainly focused on assisting Datuk Marina Chin (Malaysia’s chef de mission) in attending the various sports events at different venues,” he said.
Asked about cycling’s prospect in the Games, he said the association was setting a high target of 13 golds for track cycling.
“We have a fairly strong team above the Asean standards and in Azizulhasni Awang and Fatehah Mustapa we have above-Asian-class riders. I feel the squad will do well,” he said.
Kumaresan’s events company, Rainbow Jersey Events, has been busy of late.
“Our events are more fun based. After the race, participants are invited to take part in zumba and aerobics.
“These Fit Malaysia events are meant to educate Malaysians on the value of staying healthy and fit,” he said, noting that the events have received encouraging response.
Kumaresan’s golden year was in 1987 when as a 20-year-old cyclist, he won three golds in the SEA Games and helped Malaysia win in the cycling competitions.
In the same year, he was named Sportsman of the Year, the fourth cyclist to get the award after Ng Joo Ngan, Daud Ibrahim and Rosman Alwi.
Kumaresan also took part in the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics in 1988 and 1992, respectively.
At the Barcelona Games, he became the first Malaysian to qualify for a final, finishing 21st in the points race.
“I remember that well. I was in wrong gear, the pace was so quick and I was struggling but I was determined not to be lapped as you will be knocked out. So it was good to finish the race,” he said.
As expected, accolades would follow. Kumaresan was inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia and SportExcel Halls of Fame.
But these days, his greatest pride comes from watching his son, Keishmman Kumaresan, train.
“He is 17 and we are doing a lot of mileage now but eventually, I want to push him to be able to represent Malaysia one day,” he said.