KUALA KUBU BHARU: From middle-distance running great to businessman, B Rajkumar is probably the most successful Malaysian athlete turned entrepreneur.
Having been a competitive athlete, he has taken his relentless pursuit of success from the track into the business realm.
As a 20-year-old Rajkumar set the 800m national record of 1min 47.37s at the Asian Track and Field championships in Jakarta in 1985. The record still stands.
Today, 35 years later, the small-town boy from Kuala Kubu Bharu is setting personal records in business. He has a variety of interests that includes a budget hotel, an orchard, an animal farm, chalets at his Gaharu Plantation and a real estate company.
He continues to develop projects in his hometown in Hulu Selangor, such as ecotourism, oil and gas tools and wagon and train depot equipment.
Rajkumar said his involvement in a diversity of businesses is a result of heeding the advice of his late father, Batumalai, to keep fighting until he knocked out any obstacles in the way of success.
As a child, the only way he could get his hands on any spending money was to go out and earn it.
Even so, his first pair of spikes was paid for by A Vaithilingam, then Selangor Schools Sports Council secretary.
It happened when Rajkumar, as a 15-year-old, made his first bus trip to Kuala Lumpur to compete in the Selangor schools athletics meet at Merdeka Stadium in 1980.
As the Hulu Selangor district champion in the 800m and 1500m, he won both the events and was selected to attend the Selangor ‘Kem Bakat’ under schoolteacher and head coach, Rennie Martin.
The boy wonder from SMK Haji Kamaruddin went on to break two Selangor records at Merdeka Stadium.
Rennie knew he had a gem of an athlete and phoned me that day, April 21, to witness the prowess of a schoolboy who, he said, was set to “make middle distance running special”.
Rajkumar had been discovered and trained by former national middle-distance coach A Trapadi. He was on a winning streak, taking the 800m gold medal at the ATF championships and setting a new Asian and national record, breaking Sri Ram Singh of India’s long-standing record of 1:47.5.
His showing in Jakarta won him a chance to represent Asia at the World Cup in Canberra and the Five Nations Championships in Tokyo where he performed creditably.
At the 1983 Singapore Sea Games, Rajkumar won the 800m and 1,500m while in the two-lap race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, he rubbed shoulders with the eventual gold medallist Joaquim Cruz of Brazil and England’s 1980 gold medallist Steve Ovett.
He was strongly tipped to win the 1985 Malaysian Sportsman of the Year award but lost out to cyclist Rosman Alwi. It was speculated that Rajkumar did not get the award because he was tagged the ‘bad boy of athletics.’
He admits KL’s bright city lights got the better of him, forcing him to end his short athletics career at 22.
“Coming from a small town and suddenly being exposed to the bright city lights of KL had its challenges and temptations,” he says. “As a youngster, I was blinded at times and with success came popularity too. I wish I was given better guidance, financial aid and was looked after by the association and sports officials.
“I achieved something significant in a short time and I am proud of that. It did not come easy. I worked hard for it,’ he said.
He returned to the “peace and serenity of my hometown,” to start life anew, taking various jobs and venturing into business in 1995.
Rajkumar said his father’s dying words to him were to “complete what I embarked on and to believe in my capabilities”. The words still ring loudly in his mind.
He still holds athletics close to his heart and wants to give back to the sport. He initiated the KKB 21km Road Relay four years ago and plans to set up an athletics academy for middle distance runners.
“I will do anything to produce an athlete to erase my 35-year-old 800m national record,” said Rakumar, now an avid golfer who also organises golf tournaments and clinics.
Rajkumar said that he is extremely happy with the way his life has turned out. “I hope my story will inspire others to follow suit and believe that there is life in small towns after all,” he said.
Fake or not? Check our quick fake news buster here.