KUALA LUMPUR: At the 1985 Bangkok SEA Games, Hanapiah Nasir, a fearless dreamer from a small town, won two gold medals within 15 minutes
Former national sprint coach M Nadarajah said Hanapiah first set a new record (7.59m) in the long jump, and went on to clock 14.65s in the 110m hurdles.
He was the first Malaysian to strike gold in the SEA Games long jump since Kamaruddin Maidin in 1967, and the first in the hurdles since his mentor Ishtiaq Mobarak last won the 110m event in 1977.
He also took silver as a member of the 4x100m relay, with Rabuan Pit, G Sivalingam and Nordin Jadi, and was fittingly named the best SEA Games male athlete.
Nadarajah paid tribute to Hanapiah, who died on Sunday of leukemia.
He said Hanapiah’s feats at the SEA Games was exceptional for an athlete who, before going to Thailand, had struggled to get the correct take-off in the long jump, and lacked speed on the track.
Nadarajah said: “He approached me for speed training and to everyone’s surprise his take-off problem was solved. His speed and consistent steps in hurdling helped him in getting the perfect long jump take-off.”
After two months under him, Hanapiah clocked an unofficial 10.6 in the 100m and was included in the SEA Games 4x100m relay team.
Hanapiah said in an interview later that his only sadness then was the cruel fate that befell his fellow Melakan Rabuan in a much anticipated 100m final duel between Rabuan and Indonesia’s Purnomo Juhdi.
It never materialised because of a controversial start. The two sprint aces claimed that the starter had not even waited for the finalists to get into position before squeezing the trigger.
Eventually, Indonesia’s Christian Nenepath and Thailand’s Sumet Promna swept to a dead-heat finish, with Purnomo third.
All-round athletic talent
Former Jasin secondary schoolteachers MP Haridas and N Palani encouraged Hanapiah to take up athletics as a schoolboy.
The teachers gave the same encouragement to Rabuan and former sprinter and quarter-miler, V Angamah, both of whom inspired Hanapiah.
Haridas said: “I cannot take credit for Hanapiah’s athletic success as it was his dedication, unwavering determination, and remarkable talent that took him to the top.”
He said Hanapiah’s extraordinary contributions to athletics as an athlete and coach were akin to that of a fearless dreamer.
“He has left an indelible mark, and his loss will be felt deeply by the entire sporting community,” said Haridas. Similar sentiments were expressed by several other national athletes and coaches.
Hanapiah, the only son of a marine police sergeant, was a 21-year-old public works department employee in Kuala Lumpur when he got the attention of national selectors.
He caught the eye of Ishtiaq while training on his own in almost all track and field events at the Kampung Pandan sports complex, where the national athletes trained then.
Ishtiaq saw his potential in the decathlon but the well-built Hanapiah had no idea what the discipline was all about.
It was the start of the emergence of Malaysia’s second “Ironman” after JV Jayan who won gold at the 1973 SEA Games and silver medals in the three previous tournaments.
In 1981, Hanapiah became a star decathlete when he broke the national record, collecting 6,350 points after top finishes in the 100m, 110m hurdles, 400m, 1500m, long jump, high jump, pole vault, shot put, discus and javelin.
In the same year at the Manila SEA Games, he won the gold medal in the decathlon, and in the following year smashed his own national mark.
At the 1983 SEA Games in Singapore, he defended his decathlon record with a championship mark of 6,890 points. The record lasted 16 years before Malik Tobias bettered it by 99 points in 1999.
One year after his remarkable achievements at the games in 1985, he shattered the national long jump record with a 7.73m jump at the Malaysian championships.
Battling injuries and cancer
The next four years saw Hanapiah, by now a Maybank employee, battling with injuries.
It began at the 1987 Singapore Asian Athletics Championships where he fouled in all his three attempts, said athletics statistician Roger Loong.
Later at the Jakarta SEA Games, he injured himself on the first day of competition in the individual long jump event and had to pull out from the decathlon too.
Injury forced him to skip the 1989 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, and he wasn’t at his best two years later in Manila where he took the bronze medal in decathlon.
While Hanapiah was injured, he became a full-time trainer in 1991, and was chief national coach from 2005-2009.
“His passion for nurturing young talents and imparting his extensive knowledge and experience to others made him a respected figure in coaching,” said S Sathasivam, a former national long-distance runner.
He said among the top national athletes Hanapiah had trained included triple jumper Zaki Sadri, hurdlers Nurherman Majid and Moh Siew Wei, quarter-miler Romzi Bakar and high jumper Loo Kum Zee.
Hanapiah was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2013, and chose to treat the disease with costly medicine rather than do a bone marrow transplant.
In recent years, he spoke out against athletes who did not have the commitment, discipline and desire to excel.
Referring to the current breed of athletes, he once told sportswriter Haresh Deol: “If they can survive staying at the quarters at Pulapol (police training centre in Kuala Lumpur), they can be champions.
“Lunch was just rice and fried fish, but we didn’t make a big deal out of it. We slept on the floor, and if that happened now… hmph!”