Below is a profile of Datuk Dr. M. Jegathesan, the incumbent OCM Deputy President who does not need much introduction. I am re-producing this article that appeard in The star some two years ago for the benefit of those who need some background info on our Flying Doctor.
After dominating junior athletics for several years, Datuk Dr. M. Jegathesan burst onto the international scene in athletics in 1959 – just two years after Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman declared our independence.
It was on Merdeka Day that Jegathesan was inspired to make it big in sports as a 14-year-old. His dad was really into sports. In fact, he was the founder member of the Federation of Malaya Olympic Council (now the Olympic Council of Malaysia).
In fact, both Jegathesan’s father and brother M. Harichanda were members of Malaysia’s first-ever contingent to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
“My father was then the team manager of the first Malaysian squad to the Olympics and my brother took part in the 800m. That was when I became aware of the Olympics,” he said.
“Those days, we did not have television. I went to a cinema two months after the Melbourne Olympic Games. Usually, 15 minutes before the movie, they would begin with the news. On that day, they showed clips of the Games. I knew what it meant to be an Olympic winner.
“But it was on Independence Day that I was really inspired.
“I remember the national anthem was played for the first time and the Malaysian flag was raised. It was great to be part of that historic moment,” recalled Jegathesan.
“At that moment, I told myself that it would be great to hear the national anthem and see the Malaysian flag raised again when I win honours in sports for the country.
“It did not take me long to realise my dream,” he added.
Just four years later, the national flag was raised three times – just for him – at the 2nd SEAP Games in Rangoon.
The rest is history. M. Jegathesan remains probably the greatest sprinter the country has seen with his 100m and 200m records yet to be surpassed.
Athletics, however, was not his only forte.
While burning up the track, he also graduated as a medical doctor – earning him the famous nickname of “the Flying Doc”.
Later, he was involved in the country’s sports administration and is currently going strong as the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s (OCM) deputy-president, a medical adviser (including serving for two years with a UNDP-affiliated council on health and research in Geneva) and a lecturer at the age of 63.
His 32 years in the Health Ministry also culminated in Jegathesan serving as the deputy director-general (research and technical support) and also the director of the Health Ministry’s research programme.
“Malaysia has changed and we have to understand and accommodate the changes. We cannot treat changes in sports in isolation. The society has changed and, naturally, it affects sports. Nowadays, it is hard to find a volunteer. Even volunteers want to be paid,” he said.
“But Malaysian sports is not all that bad. In the world, we are top in squash, top four in badminton, top three in bowling and top 12 in hockey. The success in sports for Malaysia has shifted from the basic sports like athletics to the new sports like bowling and squash.”
While in a pursuit of sporting glory, Jegathesan hopes that today’s athletes will not neglect intellectual growth.
“I remember that during my running days, when there was a break between runs, I would take out my small notebook and revise. This habit does not die, you know,” he said, pointing to his small notebook filled with scribbles.
“I still jot things down. But I try to keep up with times. I carry a thumb drive around – it is so much easier than carrying all the documents,” he laughed aloud.
“Now, with the e-mails, the communication barrier is broken. It is so fast that I make sure I check my mails twice a day to stay abreast.
“Our full-time athletes have spare time. What do they do with it? Sometimes, athletes need intellectual distraction. They need diversion from daily training routines. Sporting pursuit is not enough; it must be in tandem with intellectual pursuit. Then, there is a balance.”
Over the 50 years, the most significant changes would probably be the way the athletes are showered with incentives for the excellence in sports. Sports has, in fact, become an area in which one can make a living.
Jegathesan, the first Malaysian to win an Asian Games gold in 1962, agreed that sports has become a money-making business. Asked about his thoughts on this, he quoted what Czech athlete Emil Zatopek, a three-time gold medallist at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, said:
“You do not win races with money in your pocket but you win it with courage in your heart and a dream in your head.”
Then again, he is from a different era.
With his courage and dream, Jegathesan has become a successful Malaysian personality in sports and in medicine – he has won both the National Sportsman award and the National Scientist award.
Now, 50 years on, it is for other 14-year-olds to be inspired by him.