PETALING JAYA: It will be a divine moment when Josephine Mary and her daughter Shereen Vallabouy reunite as coach and athlete, after five years, at the world athletics championships in Oregon, in the US, beginning Friday.
Josephine will be the team manager and stand-in coach for US-based 400m runner, Shereen, and the other Malaysian representative at the meet, high jumper Nauraj Singh Randhawa.
Shereen, who is the first Malaysian woman athlete to feature at the world championships in 11 years, will be competing on a wild card while Nauraj qualified on merit as the 30th ranked high jumper in the world.
The Malaysia Athletics Federation (MAF) decided to send Josephine to Oregon after Shereen’s coach, since 2019, Mason Rebarchek, was unable to make the trip due to personal reasons.
Josephine will coordinate with Rebarchek to avoid any disruption to Shereen’s preparation for her event.
Mark William Ling.
The last time mother and daughter were together as coach and athlete was at the Sea Games in 2017 when Malaysia won the bronze in the 4x400m relay.
“While I will miss coach Mason, I hope to achieve my personal best in the 400m, with my mother by my side,” said Shereen, of Winona State University in Minnesota where Rebarchek is the head track and field coach.
She said she would also display the Malaysia Berjaya spirit in gratitude to Berjaya Corp founder Vincent Tan’s Better Malaysia Foundation that had in May provided her a sponsorship of US$52,000.
Shereen, 24, will be competing in round one of the women’s 400m on July 17 and there is optimism that she will break the 29-year-old Malaysian 400m record.
The national record of 52.56s is held by Rabia Abdul Salam while Shereen’s Olympian mother is the second fastest over the event at 52.65s, with Shereen at 52.68s.
Josephine, a former national elite coach, said she was honoured that MAF had given her an important role to ensure Shereen and Nauraj had a flawless competition.
Asked if she considered her task as a comeback to elite coaching, she said: “I am thankful to the MAF president (Shahidan Kassim) for having confidence in me and I am prepared to serve athletics in any way.”
Josephine and her husband, Samson Vallabouy, a former champion middle-distance runner, are currently active in junior development with the Ipoh-based Panthers Athletics Club where Shereen was groomed.
MAF coaching committee chairman, Mark William Ling, said Josephine’s appointment as coach-team manager was the start toward ensuring the “right person is chosen for the right job.”
Ling said Shahidan was confident Shereen would “run her heart out for the country” in a highly-competitive environment under the guidance of her mother.
“Shahidan believes parents, like Josephine, need to play their part to work in tandem with MAF programmes to bring out the best in their children,” he said.
Sports observers said Josephine’s appointment has cast a positive light on the MAF, accepting reality and practising equality.
They said the move also addressed the lack of women at the top level in athletics coaching, mentorship and administration.
Previous MAF administrations had been criticised for irresponsibly rewarding its officials with trips to major championships.