Catching up with Flo-Jo

In her heyday: Josephine (right) crossing the finish line ahead of G. Shanti in the 200m race in an inter-bank meet in 1989.

FORMER national 400m runner Josephine Mary Singarayar is determined to fulfil goals in life and defy the odds with her mindset and strength.

In 1984, she made up her mind to qualify for the 1988 Olympics. And in the four preceding years she worked on cutting down her time and eventually making it to the Games in Seoul, South Korea. And 33 years on, she can still vividly recall the trials and tribulations she went through to achieve her Olympics dream, one she will cherish for a lifetime.

The now 53-year-old who made her debut for the country in 1981, said she had always believed that she could qualify for the Seoul Games.

It was further cemented when she won two golds (400m and 800m) in the 1987 SEA Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“My timing was good and I was the fastest among the 400m runners in the country. I had systematically worked on reducing my timing to prepare for the Games, ” said Josephine.

Active family: Josephine (right) posing with her husband Samson Vallabuoy and children Jocelyn (second from left) and Shereen.Active family: Josephine (right) posing with her husband Samson Vallabuoy and children Jocelyn (second from left) and Shereen.

“I was pretty passionate about athletics. I guess that made me cling on firmly to my vision and mission. And I made it with a 53.85 to qualify for the Olympic Games.

“When I got to the Olympics, it was an immense feeling because I was going to compete against the world’s best. And there was a huge sense of pride to be an Olympian.”

Nordin Jadi, 400m champion and Josephine were definitely starstruck when they landed in Seoul and came face-to-face with the world’s top athletes of that era.

“I had the chance to meet Flo-Jo, ” referring to Florence Griffith Joyner, the fastest woman of all time. Joyner’s world records set in 1988 in the 100m (10.49) and 200m (21.34) still stand.

However, on race day, Josephine failed to get out of the qualifying heats as she finished sixth out of seven runners with a time of 56.06 in the 400m.

Soviet Union’s Olga Bryzgina went on to win gold with a time of 48.05, while Petra Muller of East Germany finished with a time of 49.45 for silver and another Soviet runner Olga Nazarova completed the podium with a time of 49.90.

The Olympic trip was the impetus for Josephine to improve and that she did in 1989 when she set a new national 400m record by clocking 52.65 at the Asian Track and Field Championships in India.

The record was eventually broken by the late Rabia Abdul Salam who clocked 52.56 at the 1993 Asian Championships.

“The Olympics motivated me to greater heights. I saw younger runners coming up, and it motivated me to do better. Hence the record in 1989.

“I went on to run until 1993 but decided to call it quits as my performance was declining and I was planning for my future with my family.”

After becoming a full-time housewife at 33, she joined the Perak Sports Council in 2011. She coached many athletes, including her daughters – Jocelyn and Shereen Samson Vallabuoy. Shereen is still actively running and is based in the United States.

Josephine is married to former national athlete Samson Vallabuoy.

In 2015, Josephine was hired by the National Sports Council as the national elite coach.

Josephine revealed that in 2019, she left her coaching gig after being diagnosed with stage two breast cancer but has since recovered and is hopeful of going back to coaching once the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.

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