For decades breaking the 10 second barrier was the golden fleece for sprinters around the world. Not many believed it could be achieved until American Jim Hines set a time of 9.95 at the 1968 Olympics, although it was set at the high altitude Mexico City.
Although Hines had become the first man to break the ten second barrier with a 9.9s in the 100 meter race at the USA National earlier the same year, it was manually timed.
While it was not until 1977 that fully electronic time was required for world records, Hines time at the Olympics was recognised as the new world record.
It was not for another 15 years before Hines saw his record being broken. Today the world record stands at an astonishing 9.58s, set by Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt in 2009.
Can it be broken?
Well records are meant to be broken and they would be with the right approach.
In Malaysia, the golden decade for athletics must be the 1990s. Twenty-three national records set during the 1990s remain intact till date, especially in the middle and long distance events.
While a couple of these events are no longer in the athletic calendar, Malaysia also does not have the talents in some of the other events to erase the long standing records.
B. Rajkumar’s time of 1:47.37 in the 800m is among the oldest Malaysian athletics record and was set a good 34 years ago in 1985.
Mohd Mansahar Abdul Jalil, who took over the unenviable task as the national chief athletics coach earlier this year, admitted that it was of concern that Malaysians have not been able to take a crack on the distance records.
“It is not because we do not have the talent, but it is mainly because many of our middle distance runners earn a living in the road races,” said Mansahar.
He added that the athletes cannot be blamed for opting to run at the road races instead of putting full effort on the track.
“We have advised our national athletes to cut down on the road races. But there are races that offer good prize money every week and these athletes need the income,” lamented Mansahar.
With at least a couple of 10km road races being held weekly, participation at the races affect the training programmes of those involved.
Datuk M Ramachandran’s records in the 5,000m and the 10,000m set in 1994 are among the long standing Malaysian records.
While concurring with Mansahar, Ramachandran said that the athletes themselves must also be more focused.
“We also ran road races those days. But it was limited to the appearances we had to make for our sponsors,” said Ramachandran.
The multiple SEA Games gold medallists added that track racing needed more focus and commitment than road racing.
“Perhaps one of the ways to get around this is to offer prize money for track events. But the problem is also that are just not enough track meets in Malaysia and in recent times events like the 5,000m and the 10,000m are not even contested,” said Ramachandran.
While those in other sports including badminton and football can earn lucratively by playing their respective sports, there is no such avenue in athletics other than road races.
Mansahar said that the issue has been a thorn in the ongoing discussions within the association and relevant parties.
Mansahar, however added that athletics in Malaysia also needed a holistic programme with the support of all relevant people and authorities to move forward.
“It is not going be an overnight success. With the right system and people in place it would take between 6-8 years to groom the right athletes,” said Mansahar.
He added that at least 10-15 years would be needed in total to nurture high level athletes who can deliver at the international level.
While many of the long standing records are in the middle and long distances, records set in the shorter distances including by the likes of G Shanti in the sprints and the late Rabia Abu Salam (400m) are also still intact.
“One of the problems we have is that athletes are also specialising too early. Children should only start specialising later in their teens,” said Mansahar.
He added that a holistic plan must be put in place with coaches in every level knowing exactly what was needed from them to unearth the next Malaysian talent.
“We cannot have a situation that a coach wants to be with an athletes from grassroots to elite level. They must know their limitations and allow for the proper progression of the athletes,” said the coach, who was responsible for producing Doha Asian Games silver medallist Roslinda Samsu.
Roslinda’s national pole vault record of 4.40m set in 2006 has yet to be broken.
With more than three decades in coaching, Mansahar was previously appointed by the National Sports Council (NSC) to take charge of the development of athletics in the four sports school in Malaysia – Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS), Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI), Pahang Sports School and Sabah Sports School.
“We have been engaging coaches to get their input to arrest the current trend and help move Malaysian athletics forward,” said Mansahar.
He added that another major problem Malaysian athletics faces is the lack of full time coaches.
“We have very good coaches in Malaysia. But most of them are full time teachers and because of their passion for the sport have been coaching on voluntary basis,” he added.
Despite the setbacks, Mansahar believes that with the right mindset and approach at all levels, athletics in Malaysia can relive the golden years.
“We need to look to start from the grassroots and assist and equip coaches as well as athletes with the right stuff,” said Mansahar.