Bittersweet Olympics memories

By TAN MING WAI

IF Datuk Nashatar Singh could turn back time, he would probably travel back to 1968.

That was the year when the towering javelin thrower, fondly known as Nash, experienced his biggest regret in his 15-year illustrious career as an athlete when he came up short at the Mexico Olympics.

Nashatar, who was making his second Olympics Games appearance, was aiming to make the 12-man final, but to his horror he only managed a throw of 70.70m to finish a disappointing 23rd out of 27 competitors.

Nashatar had every reason to be upset as he went to Mexico with the reputation as the 1966 Asian Games champion.

However, he recounted that he was not in his best condition after falling sick three days before the event.

“I thought I had a very good chance of making the final that year. I was in the best form of my life as I was able to reach a decent 78m, 79m during my training camp in Germany, ” recalled the now 81-year-old, who retired as the Senior Assistant Commissioner in the police force.

“I was down with fever and sore throat and it took a toll on me. Tan Sri Jega (100m athlete M. Jegathesan) was my roommate at that time, he was the first to fall sick days before I did.

“I went on to compete despite not being at my best. I gave my all and perhaps overdid it. I didn’t remember if it was my second or third throw. I heard a crack sound which turned out that I had slightly fractured my arm. To this day, I could not straighten my arm.

“It was really a sad moment. I wish I had not gotten sick.”

According to Nashatar, his Olympics debut in Tokyo four years earlier was also one to forget – no thanks to a new pair of footwear.

Nashatar, who had never worn a proper pair of javelin spikes, was over the moon when he received one from Adidas.

Little did he know that they would cause serious injury to him. His first practice throw was all it took to ruin his dream debut.

“I have never worn one (javelin spikes), I used to had it made by a cobbler in Ipoh, ” he said.

“Obviously, it wasn’t good so when an Adidas representative said they would be sponsoring my new spikes, I was really overjoyed. And it looked fantastic.

“But I didn’t have enough time to break in my new shoes. It felt awkward and in my very first throw during practice, I tore my groin muscle. The pain was terrible, I could barely walk.

“I decided to grit my teeth and compete as I was already there.”

Nashatar ended up last among 25 competitors with a miserable 51.63m.

Although things didn’t pan out the way he wanted, Nashatar took a lot of positives from Tokyo.

“That first Olympics was an eye-opening experience. Apart from the experience of competing inside a full stadium, I also learnt a lot by just watching the world’s best in action, ” he said.

The Tokyo Games certainly did Nashatar a world of good. And it was a year later in the 1965 Kuala Lumpur SEAP Games that he won the first of his nine gold medals which stretched until 1975.

But his greatest moment came in 1966 when he clinched the Asian Games gold in Bangkok, beating two fancied Japanese – Takeshi Ikeda and Yumio Miyoshi – with a new Games record of 72.92m.

“The Asian Games victory had to be my most memorable moment. No one gave me a ghost of a chance back then. I even got the better of Pakistan’s Muhammad Nawaz, the man who taught me to throw. My effort was better than his by more than five metres!, ” added Nashatar.

Nashatar was also one of the rare double internationals as he had also represented the country in rugby.

“Rugby was the first sport that I played. I represented Perak and subsequently Malaysia where I had the honour to captain the side against Singapore in 1965, ” he said.

“I managed to play both for years because the seasons don’t clash. Rugby complements throwing events very well in terms of conditioning.

“It indirectly gives you a lot of fitness especially during off period (for throwing events). Imagine the amount of fitness you get from four to five months of rugby… an hour of running, pushing, jumping and tackling.”

Apart from being a successful athlete, Nashatar was also a respectable coach and sports official.

After attending a coaching course in Germany, he helmed the Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU) coaching committee from 1977 to 1993. Later on, he became the vice-president for six years.

As a coach, he played a vital role in the careers of Arjan Singh, Wong Tee Kue and Rabuan Pit, who won the 100m gold medal in the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi.

He was also the MAAU vice-president for six years before ending his involvement in athletics.

In 1998, he was roped in by Sukom, the organisers of the Kuala Lumpur Commowealth Games, as the director of operations.