THE 1989 SEA Games is simply unforgettable. Malaysian athletes soared on their own home turf by winning a whopping 200 medals (67-58-75) – the best medal haul in the SEA Games until then – to the delight of the fans from different walks of life.
Winning the medals was one thing but there were special moments, great breakthroughs and personal achievements too.
The South-East Asian queen of heptathlon Datuk Zaiton Othman bid the sport farewell after dominating the scene for more than a decade.
“I was coming back from a long lay off ... I can still remember vividly the struggle that I went through to win the gold in hepthathlon,” said Zaiton, who is currently Malaysia’s Sports Commissioner.
“I was given the honour to lead in the pledging of the oath and that to me was most memorable and will stay as sweet memories.
“Having the late Sudirman Haji Arshad as the music icon during the closing ceremony on Aug 31, our Independence Day was amazing ... he was shouting my name on the stage.
It was wonderful to bid farewell to the sport that I love very much ... with tears and a heavy heart.
Zaiton said the standard of track and field was commendable then. The Malaysian athletics team swept a total of 14 gold medals en route to being the overall champions.
“Our team did really well. Prior to the SEA Games, we had our training stint in Perth in Australia. Then, the Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak visited us in Perth ... that visit really boosted the team’s morale.”
Zaiton admitted that the cherry on the cake for the Games came on the final day when the national football team defeated Singapore 3-1 in a rain-soaked final at Stadium Merdeka, packed with 40,000 spectators.
“The whole enviroment was awesome. It was full of excitement and winning the mother of all golds in football was the pinnacle ... it was our 67th gold at the Games.
“That wrapped up the Games neatly – and smack on our 32nd Merdeka Day.
It was a multi-racial football team full of spunk and fire who were determined to make a difference.
The team had Ahmad Yusoff, Lim Teong Kim, Serbegeth Singh, Azizol Abu Hanafiah, Lee Kin Hong, Razip Ismail, P. Ravindran, Salim Mahmud Muhaidin, Abdul Mubin Mohktar, Yap Kam Choon, See Kim Seng, Chow Siew Yai, Mat Zan Mat Aris, Naina Mohd Ismail, Abdul Rashid Hassan, A. Anbalagan, Muhd Radhi Mat Din, K. Ravichandran, Mohd Azmi Mahmud, M. Ravindran, Dollah Salleh, Zainal Abidin Hassan and “Super” Subadron Aziz.
On the badminton court, Razif Sidek recalls how the Malaysian team beat Indonesia in the team final. It was the only badminton gold won by Malaysia in the Games, but remains the most precious one.
“I still can remember the electrifying moment inside Stadium Negara,” says Razif who formed a lethal combination with older brother Jalani. “The fans were cheering at the top of their voices and we defied the odds to beat the Indonesians, who were really strong at that time.”
The others in the team were younger brother Rashid, Foo Kok Keong, Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang and Rahman Sidek. All of them received their medals from Najib.
For M. Kumaresan, the top Asian cyclist then, it was the joy of winning the gold in front of his family at the Velodrome Rakyat in Ipoh that warmed his heart.
“I made my SEA Games debut in 1985 (Thailand) and the last edition was at the 1997 Games in Indonesia. I have won a total of 21 medals, including nine gold medals but the one Games that remains in my heart is the one in 1989,” said Kumaresan.
“I won three gold medals, including a SEA Games record. I defended the road race gold too. It was wonderful to see all my family members and the fans cheering for me. I felt so proud wearing the Malaysian jersey and holding the Malaysian flag.
“I was also one of the seven athletes honoured with special gold medals by the government then for our accomplishments. We sat at the same table with the dignitaries.”
There were other outstanding achievements too.
Rhytmic gymnastics was introduced for the first time and Malaysia’s darling Faiznur Miskin made a clean sweep of the five gold medals. It sparked off the growth and spread of the sport, which has a great following even until now.
And who can forget Nurul Huda Abdullah’s exploits in the swimming pool!
She made a splashing show by winning eight gold medals and two silvers by deservingly winning the Best Female athlete of the Games. Her compatriot Jeffery Ong also did well in the men’s category, winning two gold medals.
There were other heart-warming performances too as Malaysia became the second best team behind overall champion Thailand.
Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM)’s assistant secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi said that there were several firsts at the 1989 Games edition.
“The 1989 Games saw the return of Laos and Vietnam to the fold since since 1973. Cambodia was excluded because it was serving a suspension by the IOC (International Olympic Committee),” said Kok Chi.
“The Games had the biggest participation since the SEAP Games was expanded to SEA Games in 1977 ... from seven to nine countries.
“Datuk Seri Najib was the joint chairman of the organising committee together with his uncle Tan Sri Hamzah and I can say that it was a very successful Games both in terms of athletes performance and organisation.”
But what makes it memorable for Kok Chi is the legacy left behind.
“Part of the surplus of RM3 million was given to OCM by Datuk Seri Najib .... and it was used to build the Wisma OCM. That is his legacy as Sports Minister.”
As the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur looms, the memories of 1989 are so sweet.