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Malaysian torchbearers of the Olympic Flame

   
Former national sprinter M. Jegathesan carried the Olympic Torch around Merdeka Stadium in 1964.

The Star Online, May 31, 2004

The Olympic Torch’s global journey will begin on June 2, and the Malaysian representatives are set to carry the torch on July 10. ALLAN KOAY takes a brief look at the Olympic Games history and the five local sports heroes who will do the nation proud.?

Last month, the result of the Samsung Torchbearers for Malaysia campaign was announced.?

After two months of voting by the public, the top five sportspersons chosen to represent the country in the history-making Athens 2004 Olympic Torch Relay were Olympic Council of Malaysia deputy president Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan, former national footballer Datuk Soh Chin Aun, former national swimmer Nurul Huda Abdullah, squash player Nicol Ann David and badminton player Wong Choong Hann.?

Each of the five expressed their surprise at being chosen, and felt honoured that the Malaysian public recognised their contributions to local sports and felt privileged to be a part of international sports history come July, when they will be joining 10,000 other torch-bearers from around the world to carry the torch to Athens, Greece.?

What is so special about this edition of the Olympic Games??

The first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896. Since then, the Games have travelled around the world for more than a century, and are now returning to their country of origin and the city of their revival.?

Historical records show that the ancient Olympic Games were held in Greece as early as 776BC. Pindar, the Greek Lyric poet who lived in the 5th century BC, wrote: “As in the daytime, there is no star in the sky warmer and brighter than the sun, likewise there is no competition greater than the Olympic Games.” ?

The ancient Games had a religious significance. Held on the plains of Olympia, they were dedicated to the Olympian gods and many of the sporting events were based on Greek myths. In fact, the ancient Greeks believed the first true Games were held by the Greek heroes and gods. Today, depictions of these mythical Games can be found at the temple of Zeus in Olympia. Other myths state that the first Olympic Games were started by Hercules.?

The ancient Games were initially a one-day event, but were expanded to three days in 684BC, and then to five days in the 5th century. Competitors came from all over the Greek world, and the ultimate prize was an olive wreath, plus hero status and bragging rights when they returned home. Before the Games, a sacred Olympic Truce, or “ekecheiria”, would be announced, where athletes and spectators would be able to travel to Olympia without being harassed, and no arms or acts of hostility were allowed in the area of Elis (known as Ileia today).?

It was during the ancient days when the core values of the Olympic Movement – noble competition, sport, peace, culture and education – began to evolve into the yardstick for human excellence and achievement.?

But in 393AD, the emperor Theodosius abolished the Games for being too pagan and for placing too much emphasis on athletic and spiritual matters. But in 1896, the Games were brought back to life, and thus, the modern Olympic Games were born.?

This year, the Olympic Torch Relay will be the first truly global relay as, for the first time ever, the torch will be travelling through all five continents represented by the Olympic Rings. The Olympic Flame is usually carried by torch-bearers from Olympia to the host city, and it represents the Olympic Ideals of noble competition, friendship and peaceful co-existence. This year’s Relay will take 78 days and cover more than 78,000km around the world and pass through all 54 prefectures of Greece. Also for the first time, the flame will be brought to Africa and Latin America. It will pass through cities of symbolic importance, such as Brussels, Belgium, heart of the European Union; Lausanne, Switzerland, seat of the International Olympic Committee; and Beijing, China, the next host city of the Games.?

In Greece, the host country, the flame will travel for 43 days and will arrive at the Athens Olympic Stadium on Aug 13 to mark the start of the Games. The 2004 Games will be held from Aug 13 to 29.?

The torch relay ritual was performed in ancient Athens during the Panathenaia fest held every four years to honour the goddess Athena. It involved 40 youths from the 10 Athenian tribes running a total distance of 2.5km, carrying the flame from the altar of Prometheus to the altar of Athena on the Acropolis. The torch relay was revived during the Berlin Olympiad in 1936. Since then, a torch relay has been held as a prelude to every Summer Olympic Games.?

The Malaysian sportpersons, along with five lucky Famemas Supporters Group members to be chosen by Samsung as torch-bearers, will take part on the second day of the Greece leg of the Relay on July 10 (the Olympic Flame’s global journey begins June 2). The route will cover about 30km from Lithines to Lerapetra on the island of Crete. The torch-bearers, including those from Singapore, Indonesia, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, South Korea, China, Kenya and Thailand, will arrive at the starting point at 6am, begin warming up at 8am, start the Relay at 8.30am, and complete it by 11am. They will be passing through Pilalimata, Analipsi, Makrygialos, Koutsounas, Ag. Panteleimonas, Galini, Achilia, Ferma and Koutsounari.?

Here is a look at the achievements of our five chosen sports heroes.?


   
   Soh Chin Aun, from the golden era of Malaysian football, earned the nickname Captain Towkay for his outstanding positional play.

Datuk Dr M. Jegathesan 

Dr Jegathesan, 60, is also the chef-de-mission of the Malaysian contingent to Athens 2004. A great contributor to the track-and-field category, he is the first to enter the semi-final of an Olympic event at the Tokyo Games 1964. His 200m national record set at the Tokyo Games still stands today. 

This former national sprinter is also the only Malaysian to win the men’s 200m event in the Asian Games. In fact, he won twice – in the 1962 Jakarta Games and the 1966 Bangkok Games. In the Bangkok Games, he earned the title “The fastest man in Asia” by winning three gold medals – in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m events. 

In 1967, he graduated as a medical doctor and began a 30-year career in the Health Ministry, later becoming the deputy director-general of the Ministry. He is now an adjunct professor at Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia. 

This will not be the first time that Dr Jegathesan is carrying the Olympic Torch. He had the honour of carrying the flame around Merdeka Stadium in 1964 when the Torch was making its way to the Tokyo Games. He remembers that there was a thunderstorm at the time. 

“Exactly 40 years later, I received this invitation, which was difficult to refuse,” he says. 

Datuk Soh Chin Aun 

Who can forget the Towkay of Malaysian football? Soh is one of the footballers involved in the golden era of Malaysian football, along with the late Mokhtar Dahari, Santokh Singh, the late R. Arumugam, M. Chandran, James Wong, Hassan Sani and others. Soh and Santokh paired to become what was the most solid defence in the much-feared Malaysian team back then. Soh, a native of Alor Gajah, Malacca, earned the nickname The Towkay for his outstanding positional play. 

Soh, 54, participated in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, and was captain of the qualifying team to the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. In 1971, when he played in the Olympic qualifier in Seoul, South Korea, he was the youngest member of the national team at the age of 21. 

Says Soh of his role as torch-bearer: “I will take this opportunity to be a representative of all the football fans out there, as well as the game of football itself.” 


   
Top Malaysian squash player Nicol Ann David was recently named the Malaysian Sportswoman of the Year 2003.

Nicol Ann David 

Nicknamed the Pocket Dynamite, Nicol is the top squash player in the country. She was recently named Malaysian Sportswoman of the Year 2003. She first earned the title in 1999, when she was still in her teens. 

At the tender age of 15, Nicol was already junior world squash champion. She won her first international title at 13. When she was 16, Nicol had won numerous titles, the most famous being the Under-19 World Junior Championship, making her the first Malaysian female player to do so. In 1998, she was the youngest player to win the Asian Championship. The Penangite won the gold medal in the 1997, 1999 and 2001 SEA Games, and the 1998 Asian Games. 

She was champion in the 1999 and 2001 World Junior Championships; and the 2000 and 2002 Asian Squash Championships. 

Says the 20-year-old: “This is the closest I can get to represent Malaysia in the Olympics since squash is not included in the Olympic Games.” 

Nurul Huda Abdullah 

The most successful female swimmer in Malaysia, Nurul Huda won seven gold medals in the 1985 Bangkok SEA Games and broke six SEA Games records when she was only 13. She is the first female swimmer in South-East Asia to break the five-minute mark in the 400m individual medley, and the first female swimmer in South-East Asia to break the 60-second mark in the 100m freestyle. 

She has won a total of 25 gold medals in three SEA Games, and two silver medals and a bronze in the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. She also participated in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. 

Nurul Huda earned the title Malaysian Sportswoman of the Year five consecutive times from 1985 to 1989. She was also the recipient of the International Olympic Committee Trophy in 1987 for Sport and Study. 

Says Nurul Huda, 32: “It’s great to know the Malaysian public still remember and recognise my contributions in swimming.” 


   
   Badminton player Wong Choon Hann is a winner of many events, including the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

Wong Choong Hann 

Wong started competing at the international level when he was 19. He was champion of the Dutch Open in 1997 and 2002, China Open in 2002, Chinese-Taipei Open in 2003 and Copenhagen Masters last year. 

He won the gold in the singles and team events in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, and the team event in the KL 2001 SEA Games. Last year, the 27-year-old was also runner-up in the World Championship. 

Wong will be representing the country in the singles event in Athens 2004. 

Says Wong: “I am very happy and excited that I can represent the country in two important events in Athens 2004 – being a torch-bearer and competing in the badminton singles.”


 

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