SEREMBAN: Quiet man A Ramasamy became a forgotten hero of Malaysia’s vintage era of distance runners in the 1960s and 70s but he should be remembered for his courage, resilience and gentle humility.
He emerged spectacularly from a rubber estate to become one of Malaysia’s top distance runners, setting records and showing what was possible in endurance running.
He won the national titles for the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m between 1970 and 1977, and at one time held the state records in the three events.
He died at a care centre for elderly in Rasah where he had been placed after suffering a stroke a year ago.
C Sathasivam Sitheravellu said his former teammate had slipped into depression and was unable to speak coherently in his final days.
“While Ramasamy always had a smile for his friends, he was depressed and sometimes refused to eat,” he said.
Sathasivam said he would remember Ramasamy as a great friend and an opponent on the track with whom he shared many special moments in victory and defeat.
“He was my arch rival whom I adored and was thrilled to beat him in the 5000m at the 1976 national athletics championships in Alor Setar and at the 1977 KL SEA Games trials,” he said.
Born in Carey Island, Selangor, Ramasamy was running in his teens for Pajam Estate when he was spotted by the late renowned coach Edwin Abraham at the National Plantation Workers athletics meet.
Abraham roped him into the Negeri Sembilan team, and Ramasamy, along with Sathasivam, Harjinder Singh and C Cinnathamby, went on to rule distance running in the country.
At that time, there was a deluge of athletes in track and field and other sports and government departments gladly recruited them.
Abraham, who had an extraordinary ability to transform raw talent into gems, approached then Prisons director-general Murad Ahmad to give Ramasamy a job.
Murad, who is regarded in Malaysian sporting history as making Prisons a powerhouse in football and athletics, agreed to employ Ramasamy as a warden.
But Ramasamy said he would only accept the offer if his fellow distance runner from Pajam Estate, Abu Bakar, was also hired.
Much to their delight, Murad agreed and both men were hired, with Ramasamy going on to be more successful of the two in athletics.
Roger Loong, the former Negeri Sembilan Athletics Association statistics committee chairman, said Ramasamy made his mark after breaking the late Dilbagh Singh Kler’s 10,000m national record.
He said Ramasamy clocked 32:40.4 in Kuala Lumpur on May 18,1970 to shatter Dilbagh’s eight-year record of 32:41.6 set in Manila.
Ramasamy further reduced it to 32:04.0 in Seremban in 1971, then 31:24.2 in Kuala Lumpur three months later, and finally 31:00.4 in Seremban less than a year later.
“His national record stood for 13 years before another NS athlete, G Krishnan, broke it in Bangkok in 1985 with a time of 30:58.9,” said Loong.
Harjinder Singh, the Malaysian marathon champion in 1973 and the winner of the 5000m at the national championships in 1977, described his rivalry with Ramasamy as “brothers in battle”.
He said as senior athlete and rival, Ramasamy “pushed us to train together and even pointed out our mistakes during training and after a race”.
Ramasamy will be cremated today at the Templar crematorium between 1pm and 2pm after prayers at 120, Jalan Delima 9, Taman Indah Sikamat in Seremban.