Sporting landmarks through the years

Filepic of the 15th SEA Games held at Stadium Merdeka in 1989.

Filepic of the 15th SEA Games held at Stadium Merdeka in 1989.

Many Kuala Lumpur sports complexes are steeped in history, while some are the result of a boom in infrastructure after the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

IT IS commonly assumed that the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur heralded the boom of sports infrastructure in our country, but the truth is it dates to before that.

It could be said that the first major sports facility in the city was built back in the 1950s, with Stadium Merdeka first opening its doors in August 1957 to commemorate Malaysia’s independence.

The prestigious Merdeka Tournament was first held in Stadium Merdeka with Hong Kong emerging as inaugural champion.

The event soon established itself as one of the most prestigious football tournaments in Asia.

Malaysia (then known as Malaya) won the tournament for the first time in 1958 and went on to lift the cup 11 times. Malaysia’s last victory came last year when the Harimau Muda team defeated Myanmar in a rain-soaked final in Darulmakmur Stadium, Pahang.

An aerial view of Stadium Negara where Malaysia won the Thomas Cup in 1992.

Datuk Santokh Singh, who played for Malaysia during the 1970s and 1980s, said that Stadium Merdeka was a historical monument and he fondly remembered the many memories he had of the stadium.

“We achieved independence in that stadium. We qualified for the 1980 Olympics in that stadium. We won the 1977 SEA Games gold medal in that stadium too.

“I will never forget the moments I’ve experienced there. Even Malaysians won’t forget the historical events in this stadium.

“Whenever we played, the atmosphere was electric. Fans would come in droves to support the national team and we as players, had to do well in each game for the fans and the nation,” said Santokh.

Sabahan winger Hassan Sani, who played in the stadium during the 1970s and 1980s, felt that every game he played there was a blessing and the atmosphere was one of the best he had ever experienced.

It was at this very stadium where Hassan dribbled past two players to set up that pass to James Wong — a move that qualified the national team for the 1980 Olympics.

The National Aquatic Centre at the National Sports Complex in Bukit Jalil has a unique tapering roof.

“Whenever Malaysia played, the stadium would be full. The fans’ chants and cheers drove us to greater heights and the atmosphere at the 1980 Olympics qualifying game against South Korea was amazing,” said Hassan.

Malaysia hosted its first SEA (South-East Asian) games in 1965, when Kuala Lumpur hosted the third edition of the games. Malaysia finished second behind Thailand by winning 33 gold medals.

The Malaysian Games, commonly known as Sukma, was held in Kuala Lumpur in 1986 at Stadium Merdeka and in 1992, our badminton team won the Thomas Cup at Stadium Negara — the last time we won the Thomas Cup. Malaysia came close to winning it in 1994, 1998 and 2002, but has since struggled to match badminton giants like China and Indonesia.

Hosting the Commonwealth Games proved to be a masterstroke, as Malaysia played host to world-class athletes.

Local athletes did the nation proud and proved to be stiff competition for top sporting talents from around the world.

Malaysia finished in fourth place by winning 10 gold medals, which proved to be Malaysia’s most successful Commonwealth Games outing ever.

These sporting landmarks have produced many memorable moments and athletes that have done our country proud. We take a look at some stadiums, courses and complexes that will forever be etched in the history of Malaysian sports.

Stadium Merdeka

Construction of this historic sporting venue began on Sept 25, 1956 and was completed by the middle of August the following year. Built at a cost of RM2.3mil, it has been the venue of numerous major sporting and non-sporting events. The stadium hosted the 1965, 1971 and 1989 SEA Games, 1975 Hockey World Cup and the Muhammad Ali-Joe Bugner world heavyweight title bout in 1975. Stadium Merdeka, which has a seating capacity of 40,000, was also the venue of the renowned Merdeka Tournament. The stadium’s facilities include an eight-lane athletics track and a main pitch for football, hockey and rugby.

Stadium Negara

Just like Stadium Merdeka, this indoor stadium has its own share of historical moments, the biggest being the Thomas Cup on May 17, 1992, which Malaysia won. The stadium has also hosted the world championships for wushu, silat, taekwondo and sepak takraw, besides international competitions in basketball, table-tennis, wrestling and boxing. Among the sporting legends who have graced the stadium are badminton greats like Zhao Jianhua and Yang Yang, as well as tennis aces Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, and Gabriela Sabatini. Built at a cost of RM3mil in 1962, the stadium has a seating capacity of 10,000 but crammed in almost 12,000 fans during the 1992 Thomas Cup final.

Bukit Jalil National Stadium, National Sports Complex, Bukit Jalil

The stadium is the most prominent sports structure at the National Sports Complex in Bukit Jalil, which was built when Malaysia hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games. It is one of the largest in the world with a 100,000-seat capacity, with facilities for both track and field events. It has also been used for numerous concerts. After the Commonwealth Games, the National Stadium has hosted many events such as the 2001 SEA Games and 2007 Asian Cup and is also the main football stadium for the national team. The likes of Ato Boldon, Dwain Chambers and Chandra Sturrup, all world-class sprinters, blazed its track during the Commonwealth games.

National Hockey Stadium

The stadium has two pitches, conforming to international requirements for hosting tournaments. The main pitch has a seating capacity of 14,000 while the second pitch can seat 2,000. Both pitches are laid with AstroTurf System 90, an artificial turf which

meets specifications set by the

International Hockey Federation.

This stadium also hosted the 2002 Hockey World Cup in Kuala Lumpur.

National Aquatic Centre

The centre’s most outstanding feature is its tapering roof, suspended from a giant inclined 99m steel mast. The roof is made from a single piece of membrane, making it the largest of its kind in the world. The 7,500sq m roof weighs 14 tonnes. The stadium has a 50m x 25m, 10-lane Olympic size competition swimming pool and a 20m x 50m, eight-lane training pool. It also has 25m x 25m, five-metre deep diving pool. The centre has a seating capacity of 4,000.