THE sun is burning down at the Perak Sports Complex in Ipoh. The 80-year-old man steps onto the running track in the field beside the Indera Mulia Stadium. And, all alone, he runs. And runs.
No, he’s not crazy, although some people call him that. Instead, former national 400m runner Datuk Victor “Asir” Asirvatham is a man who likes to defy the odds.
He started running because a school runner took his pencil box, and he has not stopped running – for almost 70 years.
And the octogenarian, who took part in two Olympic Games, has no intention of slowing down. He wants to run until he is 100.
“It is my dream, and I believe I can. I have 20 years to fulfil that.
“I will run at the age of 100 in the World Masters International Games. Last year, I could not go due to personal issues, but this year, I was so prepared for the meet in Vancouver, Canada, but the pandemic ruined my plans,” said Asir who, at his age, can still manage a very respectable one minute and 30 seconds over 400m.
His best time in the Olympics is 48.02s, clocked during the heats of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. That was his second Oympics. He made his debut in Tokyo 1964.
The diminutive runner, who called himself “The Bull”, did not win any medals but always left with his head held high, making the country proud.
Each of the Games brought new experiences.
In 1960, Asir took part in the Olympics trials in Padang Ipoh and faced runners like Tan Sri Dr M. Jegathesan, the athletics star at the time and the man who inspired Asir to be a national runner.
Asir, an unknown, ran his heart out. He led the field for the first 300m, but in the last 100m, he tired out and finished third, clocking 50.2 seconds.
After that trial, he decided to improve his technique by training in the field, boosting his endurance by hiking, taking care of his diet and sleeping well. Interestingly, he trained barefoot and did not have any coaching until he joined the national team.
He was always the one to set the pace from the start. Asir said he would go all out for the first 300m and would slow down in the last 100m, but he could afford to do so.
“During my time, I was always ahead of other runners and in the last 100m, I would be way ahead of them and they could not pass me. I use the same technique until today, and it has worked wonders.”
That technique earned him several gold medals in the SEAP (now SEA) Games from 1965 to 1973 in what can be described as a very decorated career.
“After that, I decided to train with spikes, and my timing got better. I did not have a coach at the time, and I trained on my own.”
His first Olympics in Tokyo was something he would never forget as the 100,000 crowd gave him the jitters.
“The first problem was the spikes, and the second one was the crowd. The crowd, they were so fervent. That gave me the chills. The experience in 1960 and 1964 gave me the experience to do my best in Mexico.
“I recorded my personal best in that tournament and competed in two heats in the 400m. It was all thanks to the guidance of my coaches over the years, especially Bill Easton and Bill Miller.
“Easton taught us technique, while Miller was the person who gave us a psychological edge. Miller gave us the drive to always do our best or even exceed our expectations.”
The former Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) technician can still be proud of his SEAP Games golds.
He won his first gold in the 1965 Games in Kuala Lumpur, and after that tournament, he went on to win several golf medals.
Asked about his most unforgettable tournament, Asir said the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta was something he would always remember, even though he finished fourth in the final.“Back then, there was only a 40-minute break between runs. Imagine running from 2pm to 3.15pm on the same day and the weather was not kind, too.
“It was my first time representing the country in the Asian Games, and I wanted to make a lasting impression. In the heats, I was third and finished the run in 48.8 seconds, a personal best.
“In the semi-finals, I finished third again and beat that mark with 48.6 seconds. I was exhausted by then and I refused to run, but the team manager pushed me to run in the final.“In the final, I faced athletes like India’s Milkha Singh, Daljit Singh and Makhan Singh. They were brilliant runners, but I still finished fourth.”
Asked why he decided to continue running in the veteran events, he said that if he stopped, he would have put on weight, and it would lead to illness.
“I do not want to go through that at all. I was active, and I want to remain quick and sharp. That is why I decided to take part in the Masters Athletics Games – whether at World or Asian level,” said Asir, who had been frustrated by the movement control order, which stopped him from training.
“Now that we are in a recovery phase, I can run at the sports complex again. Also, I have a vegetable stall in the Buntong Market and spend most of my time with my loved ones – my children and grandchildren.
“Nothing can stop me because whatever I do, I remain positive. My sons Nickson and Nelson always support whatever I do. Just because you are old, you do not have to stop. I may have a crazy dream (of running at the World Games in 20 years), but I will fulfil it,” said Asir, who wants to be an example to people on how to enjoy life and stay healthy at all times.
For a man of 80, that’s an amazing attitude. And not bad at all for a man who was in athletics only because he caught the eye of a teacher when he chased down and caught a school sprinter who had stolen his pencil box.