IT’S never too difficult to spot J. V. Jayan at an athletics competition or training field.
The lanky chap, usually wearing his cotton shirt from some athletics tournament and track bottom, would be walking around with a clipboard, either talking to the athletes or coaches and officials.
His skin was always a shade darker and you knew he had been on the ground as much as the athletes training under the scorching heat. He was a picture of dedication that is not so common among coaches nowadays.
Sometimes, he would sit quietly at a corner, observing the athletes. And sometimes, he would entertain journalists like me.
It’s sad that this athletics giant has passed on, at the age of 74.
To many, he will be remembered as a mentor, a no-nonsense coach, a disciplinarian and a friend. For six-time national 400m hurdles champion Keney Martin, Jayan was like a father figure.
“I began and ended my athletics career under Jayan, ” said Keney, who rewrote the oldest national record in track and field when he eclipsed the legendary Karu Selvaratnam’s 400m hurdles record at the 1989 national championships at the historical Merdeka Stadium. The record had stood for 25 years.
“I would have given up the sport if not for his encouragement. He believed in me more than I did in myself. He was a gem of a guy.
“It’s hard to say goodbye in these circumstances (with the movement control order) but I’ll cherish his contributions. He was more than a coach to me and many others. His heart was always with the athletes and he would always go out of his way to help others, ” said Keney, who competed in the 1990 Asian Games.
Keney now tries to keep Jayan’s legacy going – he coaches juniors at the Petaling Jaya La Salle school even at the age of 54.
He has big shoes to fill. Jayan, undoubtedly, was an exceptional coach.
I was new to athletics in my early days in journalism when I first met Jayan. He was the coaching and training committee chairman with the then Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU).
After a few interviews, it was not hard to sum up the man’s passion and heart for the sport.
He was soft-spoken yet firm. And he loved his athletes unconditionally. He wanted them to excel and sometimes, he showed tough love to reach his goals.
Like a walking athletics dictionary, he could reel off Malaysian track and field stories. There were ups and downs.
After leaving the scene, Jayan’s only wish was to see Malaysian athletics regain its glory days – but sadly, it has gone downhill since his heydays.
Politics, internal bickering and weak state organisations have seen a drastic drop of quality in athletics.
It’s unbelievable that long-retired M. Ramachandran is still holding the national record in the 5,000m and 10,000m after two decades; Iskandar Alwi is the lone pole vaulter in the national team; and there is a huge gap between seniors and juniors in some events, which speaks poorly of our development programmes. And let’s not even bring up the SEA Games – our image is far from flattering.
At the last SEA Games in the Philippines, Malaysia won five golds and it was a cause for great celebration. Jayan and his mates delivered 16 gold medals in 1997!
We do have a few outstanding coaches like Mohd Poad Mohd Kassim (sprint team) and R. Jaganathan (para team), but sadly, the situation in Malaysian athletics is pathetic.
The late Jayan set a benchmark for coaches – we need more like him to turn Malaysia into an athletics powerhouse once more.