Decathlon legend and blue chip track and field coach JV Jayan was a spellbinding sight in the national athletics arena.
He was a hero.
His singular vision and resilience in track and field was alluring. As a decathlete, aptly nicknamed “Iron Man”, he encapsulated the spirit of fierce competition, dynamism and dedication. As a coach, he was a master talent spotter in several disciplines. He shaped lost kids into champions and motivated them to international acclaim.
While Jayan’s contribution to athletics is a gripping saga, his passing on Thursday at the age of 74 at his home in Rasah Jaya, Seremban, is another low point for the legacy of sporting legends.
It is wicked when the authorities and some media fail to recognise the work of an athlete as an immense gain to the nation.
Annoyingly, the youth and sports ministry, the Malaysia Athletics Federation, the National Sports Council, the Olympic Council of Malaysia, the Negeri Sembilan government and the Negeri Sembilan Athletics Association failed to extend condolences to Jayan’s family and remained silent about his contribution to the nation.
There was no media statement from any of them extolling Jayan, the most obvious lack from the athletics federation which he had served with merit and whose deputy president Mumtaz Jaafar was in his company when she was the sprint queen.
The media went to sleep as well. Television, radio and the majority of newspapers and news portals were devoid of the energy and inspiration generated by Jayan.
It was Satwant Singh Dhaliwal who first alerted online readers to Jayan’s passing in his blog, Malaysian Sports. Except for FMT, no media followed through, but in the next 48 hours, certain sports desks were lifting facts from the story: perhaps they were either too lazy to conduct research or knew nothing about Jayan.
The New Straits Times, which had helped put Jayan in the national consciousness, ran an abrupt nine-paragraph story on his death two days later. The oldest newspaper in the country, which boasts a treasure trove of archival materials, resorted to using a picture of Jayan from a Facebook posting by C Sathasivam, a former national 5000m champion.
Sure, The Star yesterday ran a full-page tribute to the illustrious son of Seremban but glaringly missing were accolades from coaches, officials and the power-wielding sports supremos.
The tribute only had comments from two of Jayan’s charges – Nur Herman Majid (110m hurdles: six consecutive SEA Games gold medals from 1991-2001; 1991 Asian Championships gold; 1994 Hiroshima Asian Games bronze; 1995 Atlanta Olympics) and Anto Kenny Martin (six-time national 400m hurdles champion who broke a 24-year national record in 1989).
Here’s the thing: Jayan, himself a top hurdler, had also trained athletes to excel internationally in middle and long-distance events and walks. They include R Thangavelu (800m, 1500m), S Vasu (800m, 4x400m), R Ramakrishnan (3000m steeplechase), G Krishnan (5000m, 10000m) and R Mogan (walk).
This was a coach whose versatility spanned multiple events and produced star athletes.
Jayan learned coaching and talent spotting from his coach, the late Edwin Abraham, who took him under his wings in 1965 while he was a meter reader with the National Electricity Board (now Tenaga Nasional) in Seremban.
Edwin, too, had an extraordinary ability to transform raw talent in Negeri Sembilan into gems. They included feared long-distance runners A Ramasamy, Harjinder Singh, C Chinathamby and C Sathasivam; sprinter S Sabapathy and hurdler Zambrose Abdul Rahman.
Jayan’s feat as coach at the 1997 SEA Games in Jakarta where Malaysia won 16 gold medals in athletics remains unmatched. Also matchless was his domination of decathlon in the country for more than 10 years since 1967 when he won his first national gold at the MAAU meet. He won a gold (1973 Singapore) and three silver medals (1967 Bangkok; 1969 Rangoon; 1971 Kuala Lumpur) in the SEAP Games.
He was also the national champion for four successive years in the 400m hurdles with a personal best of 53.9. He remained supreme in the event and the decathlon until his retirement in 1977.
He continued as chief athletics coach for Negeri Sembilan and later held top coaching positions with the national athletics body.
It was Jayan’s gift to Malaysia. Yet, he wasn’t seen as a soul of the nation.
In an article in the “Icons” section of the Malay Mail on May 17, 2014, contributing writer C Sathasivam – a junior national athlete when Jayan was at his peak – enlightened readers about his mentor’s quest for excellence amid will and courage.
Jayan had related that it was a truly priceless privilege to spur Malaysia to athletics prowess and those wishing to don national colours should be steeped in self-belief.
He said: “Sports has given me the opportunity to test myself mentally, physically and emotionally in a way no other aspect of life has.” That spawned the headline: ‘Ironman’ Jayan never said never.
How is it that a man who produced a powerful roster of track and field legends, and had pride of place in the pantheon of athletics evolution in the country, been deprived of recognition by sports officialdom and the mainstream media?
Clearly, we are a nation that slacks in documenting and recognising the remarkable achievements of Malaysians who have excelled in sports, education, arts and other fields, and who have churned out heroes.
That might explain why our history is often called into question. Only the lives of certain accomplished citizens, some undeserving or pushed by political agenda, are thrust upon citizens.
Then again, the demise of foreign sports celebrities has often collared our attention, hasn’t it?
It saddens many that a distinguished sportsman who inspired emerging athletes to greatness has been ignored.
It is heart wrenching that we could not pay our last respects to a legend due to the movement control order (MCO). Only six people were at the Jalan Templer Crematorium in Seremban.
Jayan (J Viyayan a/l NJ Pillai) must continue to be in our midst. Nothing should erase him from our consciousness. We must ensure his achievements and contributions remain an influence.
The passing of such a gifted man in our midst is not the real tragedy. Ignorance of his existence is.
I can’t help but despise those who ignore “national treasures”.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.