Mind power helps ex-champ rid hurdles

FORMER 110m hurdling champion Ishtiaq Mobarak’s passion for sports was ignited at where Stadium Merdeka stands today. It was then known as Coronation Park.  

When Ishtiaq was eight years old, he tagged along with his father, Mobarak Ahmad, to see athletic champions train at the park.  

“Coronation Park was a playground for present and future champions,'' he said. “The camaraderie then was amazing. I realised what the importance of a playing field was then.'' 

Ishtiaq laments the isolation he sees today. “In the old days, footballers and hockey players joined the runners to do sprint workouts. We were versatile.''  

Ishtiaq's intimacy with Stadium Merdeka's black bitumen track began in 1965. It was the year he ran his first race at the stadium in the Selangor Athletics Champion-ships. 

The crowd cheering as Ishtiaq creates history in 1977.

In the same year, he won gold medals for pole-vault, long jump and triple jump at the National Schools Athletics Championships. 

The athletics bug hit him when Ishtiaq volunteered as a press boy in the 1965 South-East Asia Peninsular (SEAP) Games. “I was convinced and inspired to achieve greatness,'' he said, adding that he began to specialise in hurdling. “I wanted to go international.” 

He surprised everyone when he took the bronze in the 110m hurdles at the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games. He was only 18 years old.  

An accident denied him further glory. “Everyone wrote me off,'' said Ishtiaq. “I only had my family and myself to depend on.  

“I told myself that the least that I can do was to try. Making a comeback was hard and tough.” 

At the 1971 SEAP Games trial at Merdeka Stadium, Ishtiaq turned up, but did not race. “I lost confident to have a go at the 10 flights (hurdles).”  

Nevertheless, he stayed until the trial was over. When everyone had left for home, Ishtiaq placed five hurdles and challenged himself by running blindfolded.  

“I cleared three hurdles but crashed into the fourth. I wanted to build up my courage. I told myself that if I can clear the hurdles blindfolded, I can do better when I can see,'' he added. 

The 1971 SEAP Games proved to be the best race of his life. On a wet day, he did not only win the race, but also rewrote the Games record with a 14.4s effort. 

“I proved to myself that I can do it if I put my mind to it. Adversity builds character.” 

That race marked a new beginning for him.  

“The mind has to be stronger than the body. The race was exactly the way I pictured it – until the moment I punched my hand in the air with the V-sign at the finish line. I ran it over and over again in my mind before the actual race. Honestly, my whole life changed after that.” 

Ishtiaq said history was created with the declaration of independence at Stadium Merdeka. “We, the sportsmen, then created more history at the same venue.  

“Do not take away our memories of the stadium. It is not only rich in history, but has sentimental values attached to it.  

“Our nation was born there.''  

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