Handle unpolished gems with care so that they’ll be our future diamonds

KARL Gunter Lange, a track and field specialist from Germany, issued a warning to the Malaysian powers-that-be almost 30 years ago on the dangers of early burnout for budding athletes in athletics.

In urging Malaysia to discard the instant coffee mentality of cutting corners to produce the goods, Lange said a multi-lateral approach, whereby the athletes are exposed to other events to boost their general aptitude for sports before they start specialising, was crucial in developing talent in the long run.

His sentiment was shared by Russian coaches employed by the National Sports Council (NSC) ahead of the 1998 Commonwealth Games – Edwin Ozolin, Gennady Joubriakov and Sergei Sidorenko among them.

Ozolin was a former head of high-performance sports laboratory of the Central Army Club Moscow, or better known as CSKA Moscow, who led the Malaysian athletics team to a 16-gold medal haul in the 1993 Singapore SEA Games.

Before pitching his tent at Bukit Jalil, Ozolin was the head coach of the Soviet Union team, in charge of sprint and hurdles between 1988 and 1992.

Under his tutelage, the Soviet track and field team produced three gold, one silver and two bronze medals in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Ozolin, who set foot in Kuala Lumpur in May 1992, was credited with the progress made by hurdlers Noraseela Mohd Khalid and Moh Siew Wei, apart from having had a hand in the national marks set by G. Shanti (women’s 100m) in 1993, Che Osna Che Mat (100m hurdles) in 1995 and Doris Chong (women’s long jump) in 1993.

Lange and Ozolin impressed upon the NSC and the National Sports Institute (NSI) the need to provide our potential athletes the multi-lateral coaching, which led to a review of the NSI Talent Identification programme.

Some athletes allowed nature to take its course.

Two of our world-class athletes who were active in sports other than that of their chosen path, spring to mind.

Datuk Lee Chong Wei and Datuk Azizulhasni Awang were into basketball and skateboarding respectively before fate brought them fame and fortune in badminton and cycling.

Recently a dozen and more sporting talents were unearthed in the Sukma organised by the NSC.

They were, among others, in athletics, swimming and shooting. For those who won, the euphoria would last for some time. Those who did not, will continue to live another day.

The task is for the stakeholders to offer an enabling environment for them to make the grade and reach their optimal level.

lia Husna Budruddin, Gan Chen Jie (shooting); Bryan Leong (swimming), Wilson Quaik (decathlon) and Mohd Ikbolasen (3,000m steeplechase) to name just a few have shown glimpses of their potential, with a lot of room to grow in stature.

Indeed it is always exciting to witness the emergence of promising youngsters in Malaysian sports but we hope they quickly come back to terra firma after reaching the heights of such early success.

Question is, will they steadily and gradually reach the status of iconic champions in their later years or will they be joining a frustratingly long list of young athletes who fall by the wayside?

A number of athletes have failed to fulfil their potential, much like Sarawak’s Tania Bugo who bagged 13 gold medals as a 15-year-old in Sarawak 1990.

In my conversation with her in 1992, Tania disclosed the fact that she could not cope with the balancing act as her studies suffered.

While her friends were having fun like proper teenagers, Tania was spreading herself thin, having to train for numerous events in the pools.

Today we enjoy the luxury of having a pool of talented athletes, led by world class sprinter Mohd Azeem Fahmi.

But with talent so scarce, the uncut diamonds have to be polished and cut to perfection.

Then only will they be allowed to sparkle.

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