C Kunalan in Tokyo_2
Kunalan at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremonies

It was the summer of 1964 and Singapore was in crisis.

Singapore’s leader, Lee Kuan Yew, had brokered a deal with the British Government and the leadership of Malaya to be included in a nation called Malaysia, established in 1963. This was not a match made in heaven. Racial tensions were part and parcel of the daily lives in the region between Singapore, which was a mixture of Indian, Malay and Chinese, but had a predominant population of ethnic Chinese, and the rest of the Malaya Federation, which was primarily Bumiputra and Islamic.

In July and September, Singapore felt the political tension born of the delicate balancing act that brought Singapore and Malaya together, and at times, the tension boiled over. Race riots broke out where shophouses were burned down, police and military were called out to restore order and enforce curfews, and people were beaten and killed.

This is the atmosphere in which athletes in Malaysia and Singapore were preparing for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Canagsabai Kunalan was a promising 21-year-old sprinter, talent spotted only a year before by the Malaysia track coach, Tan Eng Yoon. After a successful sprinting debut in 1963, Tan believed Kunalan was ready for the Tokyo Olympics, and recommended him for the 4X100 relay team, along with Mazland Hamzah, John Daukom, and Mani Jegathesan.

Tan Eng Yoon and Stan Wright with Malaysia team
3 weeks prior to Tokyo – standing: Tan Eng Yoon and Stan Wright; sitting (L to R): Kunalan, Wong Fey Wan, Kuda Ditta, M Jegathesan, and Dilbagh Singh

But the make-up of the 4X100 relay team did not sit well with Wong Fey Wan. Another talented sprinter, Wong defended his record, and called out Kunalan publicly in the press:

I beat Kunalan in the 100 m finals in the national championships in which I finished second to Jegathesan, and I beat him again in the Government Services Meet in the 100 m final on Saturday in which I finished third…. I am willing to race against Kunalan again to prove I am the better man over 100 m. If I am wrong I will quit athletics.

Coach Tan did favor Kunalan, perhaps for his work ethic, perhaps for the belief that Kunalan was stronger around the curves and a better choice as back up for the relays. Maybe Wong did not have the political support as he was self-taught and did not have the benefit of a coach lobbying his case as Tan did for Kunalan. Maybe race was influential. As explained through Kunalan’s state of mind at the time in the biography, “C. Kunalan – Singapore’s Greatest Track and Field Athlete”, Kunalan was unhappy.

Whatever the true reason for Wong’s exclusion – be it sporting or political, this incident affected Kunalan, who regarded this as “one of the saddest moments” of his running career. He never knew for sure whether he had been chosen on the basis of merit, but he wished that Wong had been chosen instead, knowing how much Wong had been looking forward to competing at the Olympic Games.

It was Kunalan instead who went to Tokyo. Just three days before his 22nd birthday, the Malaysian 4×100 team finished last in their round one heat, and that was that.

While Kunalan had no control over the make-up of the 4×100 Malaysian relay team, during a period of racial and political strife in his country, he did indeed have control over more important, personal decisions – with whom he would marry.

Kunalan and Roy 2
Kunalan and me

Teammates in track, Kunalan first met Chong Yoong Yin, captain of the Raffles Girls School track team, and a member of the Malaysia national track team. They had track in common, but to their parents, little else. Kunalan was ethnic Indian and was brought up in the Hindu religion. When Kunalan had returned from the Tokyo Olympics and his parents realized that his relationship with the ethnic Chinese woman, Yoong Yin, was still intact, they gave their son an ultimatum: “leave that Chinese girl or never return home again.”

Kunalan walked out.

Yoong Yin received the same ultimatum from her father and her uncle. And she too left home, joining her mother, who was estranged from her father.

Distraught after being shunned by their own families, they struggled momentarily, wondering what would happen. But Kunalan in the end was resolved. “We’ll have our own friends who will accept us.”

Wedding Day

Engaged in October 1965, with a wedding date set for October 1966, the parents of Kunalan and Yoong Yin eventually saw that there was no fighting the bond between the two. Kunalan’s father surprised his son with a visit, and said he would bless the union, but only if Yoong Yin would take on an Indian name and convert to Hinduism. Fortunately, that was not a problem for Yoong Yin, and the two sprinters were married in a Hindi ceremony. Subsequently a Chinese wedding dinner was held by Yoong Yin’s mother.

Fifty-two years later, Kunalan and Yoong Yin are still happily married. And Kunalan proudly proclaims that diversity and the need to be inclusive of all races and nationalities is vital to world peace. “I am not nationalistic,” he told a Singaporean magazine. “I am more of an internationalist.”

His children, a blend of Indian and Chinese DNA and heritage, have lived their parents’ creed, marrying members of other nationalities. Kunalan is proud of to be an inter-racial grandparent.

He remembers 1964. He recalls seeing the worst in the race riots of Singapore, and the best in the gathering of the world’s best athletes in Tokyo. And he believes that we are capable, through sports, to co-exist in peace and love.

Canagasabai Kunalan is living proof.

The International Family

A Teaching Moment at the Singapore Sports Museum
A Teaching Moment at the Singapore Sports Museum

Canagasabai Kunalan strolled through the Singapore Sports Museum, walking his guest through Singapore’s greatest sporting achievements, explaining the history with enthusiasm, with the skills honed over decades as a teacher.

But C. Kunalan was more than just a teacher. As we walked through the corridors, passers-by would recognize the fit, elderly gentleman as the man who held the title, Singapore’s fastest, for decades. In fact, Kunalan had held at different points the fastest marks in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 400 meters in Singapore track history.

It was 1968 at the Mexico City Olympics, when Kunalan set the Singapore record for 100 meters, a mark that stood for 33 years.

Jim Hines set the world record in the 100-meters in Mexico City with a time of 9.95, considerably faster than Kunalan’s 10.38. But when you think about it purely from a statistical perspective, Singapore had a tiny talent pool. The population of Singapore in 1968 was 2 million, only 1% of the entire US population, and roughly the same population of Hines’ state of Arkansas that year.

C Kunalan in Mexico City_2
Kunalan finishing third (719) in a 100-meter heat to advance. Eventual gold winner Jim Hines strolls into the finish.

Kunalan defied the odds, advancing beyond the first round at the Mexico City Games to be recognized as one of the top 32 fastest men in the world. And if you know the history of Southeast Asia in the 1960s, you know that in 1968, Singapore was only in its third year as a sovereign nation. It wasn’t clear until the last days before departing Singapore whether Kunalan had the funds to even travel to Mexico.

In the end, Kunalan made it to Mexico City, and he was there to compete. But he knew, as a sprinter, he and his teammates were significantly behind those in the advanced industrial economies, or in the nations under the flag or influence of the Soviet Union. In his biography, C. Kunalan – Singapore’s Greatest Track and Field Athlete, written by Steven Quek, a one-time colleague of his in the National Institute of Education, Quek explains how support and role modeling by others contributed to his development.

At the Mexico City Olympics Kunalan recalled simple but powerful gestures: USA Assistant Track Coach Stan Wright offering Kunalan the use of Team USA’s masseurs for a pre-competition rub down, or Bahaman sprinter Tom Robinson coming up to Kunalan to suggest that the Singaporean be aware that he was exerting too much effort into the first 20 meters of his sprint, when he should in fact be conscious of staying relaxed. “Tom, a world-class athlete, was willingly sharing advice with an unknown from Asia. Kunalan never forgot this.”

After Kunalan’s competitions ended, he was then able to watch the very best athletes in the world demonstrate the highest levels of physical achievement:

Ever the teacher, Kunalan understood that for Singapore athletes to succeed internationally, to reach the world-class levels on display at the Olympics, their training must improve, as he explained in a letter to his wife:

We must get very serious about training. There are about 6 short men all doing 10 or 10.1. Why? Arms and legs big!! Mine only 1/2. You know darling! If I can get their strength, I will be doing 10 sec too.

C Kunalan in Mexico City_1
C, Kunalan in Mexico City

Kunalan would retire from track in 1970, but would go on to become one of Singapore’s most successful primary and secondary school teachers, twice being recognized as “Teacher of the Year”. He currently works for the Singapore Sports Council, in offices near the Singapore Sports Museum.

Maybe you’ll be lucky to see him there, get a tour like I did, and learn from a man who has literally lived the history of Singapore sports.

Abdul Khaliq and Milkha Singh
Milkha Singh (right) barely edging out Abdul Khaliq in the 200-meter finals of the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo.

He arrived at Haneda Airport in May of 1958, camera bulbs popping and microphones thrust towards him. He was driven to The Dai-ichi Hotel escorted by police on motorcycles, greeted by fans asking for autographs.

Having recently broken the Asian speed records in both the 400 meters and 200 meters, Milkha Singh was a sports hero throughout Asia, and was in Tokyo to compete in the 1958 Asian Games.

Eyes bleary and bloodshot from a long flight from Calcutta, India, Singh still was amazed when he arrived in Japan, as he described in his autobiography, The Race of My LIfe. “I was thrilled to have been given a chance to visit Japan, a country I admired for the tenacious way they had rehabilitated themselves after the devastation wrought by the Second World War. When we landed at Tokyo Airport, our eyes were dazzled by the brightness of the multicolored lights. The puddles of water that had collected after a recent shower glowed with the reflection of the lights as well.”

It was at these Asian Games where Singh established his famous rivalry with Pakistani, Abdul Khaliq, the fastest 100-meter sprinter in Asia at the time. According to Singh, when Singh was first introduced to Khaliq at the hotel, with a friendly warning to watch out for Singh in the 200 meters, “Khaliq shot back, ‘I have met and run races with many a Tom, Dick and Harry like him. They are no match for me.”

On Day 2 of the Asian Games, Singh was favored to win the 400-meter race, which he did fairly handily. His time of 46.6 seconds was an Asian record, which the Japanese crowd greeted with an eruption of cheers. “I felt my hair stand on end and a shiver of delight ran through me,” he wrote. And when he saw the Indian flag rise high, he wrote that “it was the most stirring moment in my life and I was filled with great patriotic fervour seeing the Tricolor fluttering in the open blue sky.”

But his defining moment of truth was still to come.

The 200-meter competition was held the next day. Khaliq of Pakistan had won the 100-meter finals. Singh of India had won the 400-meter finals. Thus, bragging rights for fastest man in Asia would be determined in Asian Games 200-meter finals.

After the starting gun was fired, and the six sprinters made their way up the straightaway, Khaliq and Singh were essentially neck and neck at the 100-meter mark. With Singh on the innermost lane and Khaliq a couple of lanes to Singh’s right, they both knew it was going to be a fight to the finish.

Despite focusing on our running, we were each aware of the other’s progress and were pushing ourselves and our utmost limits. It was fast, it was furious, it was neck-to-neck. There was high drama. About three or four yards from the finishing line, I pulled a muscle on my right leg. Then my legs got entangled and I tripped and tumbled over the finishing line. At that very moment, Khaliq breasted the tape too.

Milkha Singh tumbling over finish line at Tokyo Asian Games from The Race of My Life
From Singh’s autobiography, The Race of My Life.

It took about 30 minutes for the judges to analyze the photographs taken at the finish line from multiple angles. In the end, the judges determined Singh the victor. “I was now Asia’s best athlete!”

Japan leveraged these 1958 Games, showing off its new National Stadium and its ability to run a major international sports competition. The next year, Tokyo was selected to host the 1964 Summer Olympics. Singh would go on to take gold at the 400 meters at the Commonweatlh Games in London, and earn the moniker, The Flying Sikh, and become a favorite to be the first Asian to win a gold in track at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

In the early 1960s, Milkha Singh, along with C. K. Yang emerged as the great Asian hopes in athletics.

Milkha Singh heros welcome from The Race of My Life
Milkha Singh returns from Tokyo to India, from The Race of My Life

running in heat

Imagine it’s Sunday, August 9, 2020, the final day of the Tokyo Olympics. The marathon has started, tens of thousands of people are lining the route, and the morning sun is radiating a furnace room of heat.

On August 9 this year (2017), the temperature hit a high of 37 degrees Celsius, or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot man! And potentially dangerous for runners, as well as spectators. According to Makoto Yokohari, a professor of city planning at the University of Tokyo, in August the temperature at the location of the national stadium in Tokyo gets to 30 degrees at 7:30 am, and rises to the mid 30s in Asakusa, the mid-way point of the 2020 marathon. Yokohara adds in this article that much of the route, especially around the Imperial Palace, is not under shade.

Runner’s WorldFor runners, the fastest times often come in cool weather, in a range of 4.5 °C (40 °F) to about 13 °C (55°F), according to this analysis from Runner’s World. But when you run a marathon in hot weather, your body will rebel. According to this article from Scientific America, marathoners need blood to go in two directions at the same time – to your muscles to deliver oxygen and keep your muscles pumping, and to your skin so that your body can cool down. When it’s really hot, unfortunately, the blood that goes to the muscles that are getting a work out, gets even hotter, and the blood that gets to the surface doesn’t cool down. You sweat more, you dehydrate, and your body reacts with heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or even heatstroke.

The mother of all heat related illnesses. Your body temperature rises above 105 degrees F and it becomes a life-threatening situation. Most often, heatstroke results from untreated heat exhaustion, although it’s very possible for heatstroke to come about with no signs of heat exhaustion. Heatstroke is characterized by extreme fatigue and weakness, confusion and odd behavior, disorientation and finally unconsciousness. Your body’s regulatory system completely shuts down at this point, sweating ceases, and your skin becomes hot and dry. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Convulsions and seizures can occur as your brain begins to shut down; coma and death are possible in the worst situations. GET OUT OF THE HEAT IMMEDIATELY! Seek medical attention, get in the shade, drink water, etc anything to get cooled down! You do NOT want to get to this point.

running in heat 2

For us pedestrians, succumbing to the heat is commonplace in August, according to Akio Hoshi, a professor of health science at Toin University of Yokohama. “The number of people transported by ambulance due to heatstroke or heat exhaustion has peaked in early August in recent years. So the Tokyo Olympics fall in the period with the highest risk,” Hoshi said.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were held in October, and the weather was primarily wet and cold….preferable conditions to the marathoners of 2020.

I don’t enjoy running. My preference is to read my kindle while exercising on an elliptical machine. But on the weekends, I will head out into the neighborhood, often climbing the stairs of road overpasses, and running through the residential area I live in.

But now I run with an Apple Watch, and even more conveniently with Apple Airpods.

I bought the Nike Apple Watch opportunistically in a recent visit to Portland where the lack of a sales tax makes big purchases attractive. My main objective was to upgrade on my Fitbit.

airpodsWhile the Apple Watch is cool, as all Apple products tend to be, the jury is still out regarding its utility as an exercise measurement tool. I’ve recently realized that not only does the Apple Watch lack the measurement tool that the Fitbit has to measure stairs climbed, it also does not automatically measure sleep time and patterns.

That’s a disappointment.

The revelation has been the Airpods! First, how does a one-size-fit-all headset stay in any person’s ears, I have no idea. But I can run and jump and the Airpods stay in place (although I sometimes feel better pushing them in on occasion).

Running without wires has been a revelation. With the Air Buds connecting to the Apple Watch via bluetooth, I can run relatively unencumbered without wires. For me, it was one of those nagging issues that, once removed, feels liberating.

Aska Cambridge Keeping Up with Usain Bolt in 4x100 Relay
Aska Cambridge Keeping Up with Usain Bolt in 4×100 Relay – click on image to see Olympic Channel’s “Games to Remember”

The Olympic Channel features a video that recalls images and moments from the 2016 Rio Olympics. Entitled “Games to Remember – Re-Experience Rio 2016: The Official Summary of the Rio2016 Olympic Games,” the video runs over 37 minutes long.

I started it, but was only going to watch it for a few minutes. I ended up watching the entire video, a collection of short clips of the events of each of the 16 days. And they are all stunning!

Slow mo, normal speed, tracking shots, overhead shots, long shots, all edited to highlight the aesthetics of epic poetry in motion, to accentuate the limits to which the athletes will stretch themselves, to remind us of the chills we experienced when viewing the very best in the world achieve the highest levels of physical achievement.

Go to this link. If you can, put it up on your big flatscreen TV. And revisit the joy of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Kohei Uchimura from Games to Remember
Kohei Uchimura – click on image to see Olympic Channel’s “Games to Remember”

 

Bob Hayes_The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics_2
Bob Hayes launching into the record books at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the 100-meter sprint finals, from the book The Spectacle of Tokyo Olympics.

 

Bob Hayes, a student at Florida A&M, was eating dinner in the university’s student union building when he heard that the campus police wanted to speak to him. When he found the police, they told him they were taking him to jail for robbery.

According to Hayes’ autobiography, Run, Bullet, Run, a friend named James Vickers said that he and Hayes had robbed a fellow student. Vickers held up a plastic gun and got what the student had: eleven cents and two sticks of gum. Hayes said he had no idea what the police were talking about, but he was carted off to the city jail, where Hayes stayed for 7 days without showering and changing clothes. With no money, no lawyer, no idea what to do, Hayes said he signed a confession and pleaded guilty in the hopes of getting out of jail.

When it was time for sentencing, Hayes’ coach, Jack Gaither made an appeal to the judge: “If you give me this boy for four years, I guarantee you he won’t get in trouble and he’ll make you proud of him.” Hayes was put on probation for ten years and had to report to a probation officer once a month. All that for eleven cents and two sticks of gum, taken with a plastic gun, by someone else.

Thanks to Gaither, Hayes had a fruitful college football career. He then went on to win two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, be crowned the fastest man in the world, and win a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, the first of only two people to have reached such heights. Retired from sports, Hayes anticipated a trip to the NFL Hall of Fame, thanks to the way he revolutionized American football, stretching defenses with his speed. Bob Hayes was on top of the world. Until the police came calling again.

It was the middle of the night in March, 1978, when the police banged vigorously on Hayes’ door. The police arrested him for selling drugs, and carted him off to the local jail. A man named Denny Kelly, described as an airline pilot and an undercover policemen in the Dallas area, where Hayes was living, apparently befriended Hayes, and little by little would ask for drugs. Hayes wrote that first he provided Kelly with methaqualone (also known as Quaaludes), and connected Kelly to people who could sell him cocaine. Hayes introduced Kelly to another person who would end up selling Kelly cocaine. As conversations and video of Kelly and Hayes were recorded, including one at Hayes office at a computer company he was working at.

Bob Hayes_older

Two pills of Quaaludes, apparently “sold” to Kelly when Hayes borrowed ten dollars from Kelly to pay for gas, as well as five grams of cocaine sold by a person introduced by Hayes in a case that suspiciously looked like entrapment – this should have resulted in a light sentence, slap on the wrist perhaps – but this was a second offense. Because Hayes had a previous arrest record in the case where he allegedly stole 11 cents and two sticks of gum, his case could have gone to a jury trial where, if convicted, Hayes could have gone to prison for many years. Even though his teammates all testified that Hayes was not a drug dealer, they knew that the risk of Hayes going to a jury, one that could have been packed with whites, was too great, so they encouraged him to plead guilty with the hopes of getting off lightly.

Unfortunately, the judge sentenced Hayes to five years in prison. No longer the iconic #22 wide receiver, Hayes was inmate number 290973 of the Texas prison system. Here’s how he described his life in prison in his autobiography:

After living the good life – a nice house, and the best hotels when I traveled – I found myself in an eight-by-ten foot cell for several weeks of orientation and then in a dormitory with about a hundred other inmates, most of whom were fifteen or so years younger than me, using a public shower like I had with the Cowboys and eating in amess hall. We had to be counted four times a day to make sure that none of us was missing and a count could take as long as an hour if someone was unaccounted for.

Being in prison taught me a little more about the values of life. I saw the things I was missing and how I always took things for granted. You don’t really miss freedom until you don’t have any choice. Just being able to get a glass of milk or a Pepsi whenever I wanted one meant so much more to me after I got out.

Fortunately for Hayes, he did not serve five years. His case was overturned on appeal, and he was free. In today’s terms, it appears to be a tough punishment for someone who only introduced another person to a very persistent undercover cop, and did not technically sell anything to anyone. And yet, his time in prison followed him like a dark cloud. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, twenty years after Hayes’ triumphs in Tokyo, Hayes was shunned from the Games by the US Olympic Committee. And in this interview with Frank Gifford during ABC’s coverage of the Games, you can tell that Hayes is miffed at his treatment.

I’m in between jobs now. It has been very difficult for me. It very difficult to get someone to trust and believe in me now as a citizen because no one thinks of me in terms of my accomplishments. Just the drug conviction. Frank, I spent ten months in incarceration for a total of 700 dollars that I was indirectly involved in. I would love to get a good writer, like an Alex Haley, a director like a Norman Lear, and a TV network like an ABC, who can really get out there and show the American public what has happened to named athletes. Not only a named athlete but everyone. I want people to see what has happened. It has been a downhill situation. It’s very difficult to come out on top again when someone continues to kick you and stab you in the back, to redeem yourself.

When Hayes said he was on the stand, he had admitted: “I’m not the smartest guy in the world. If I was, I wouldn’t be up here. I’m guilty. I was wrong. I’ve paid the price in my image and my respect. People see me as Bob Hayes, dope dealer, not Bob Hayes, the citizen. It hurts.”

In his autobiography, Hayes went further: “My whole prison experience turned out to be a waste, a nightmare that never should have happened.”

When he passed away, the only man to win a gold medal and a Super Bowl ring, a man who disrupted NFL defenses with his speed and skill, was denied entry into the NFL Hall of Fame. Eventually, Hayes was inducted, albeit over 6 years after Hayes’ death. Thinking that he might eventually get in, he wrote a Thank You note that was read posthumously at the 2009 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:

You know I am not sure I am going to be around if I get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame so you must read this for me, I am not sure, I guess I am feeling sorry for myself at this time but you must remember everything I want you to do and say. Mother said you would do what I want because you always did. So read this for me.

I would like to thank everyone who supported me to get into the NFL Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys organization, all of my team mates and everyone who played for the Cowboys, (thank the San Francisco 49rs [sic] too). Thank the fans all around the country and the world, thank the committee who voted for me and also the ones who may did not vote for me, thank Mother and my family, thank Roger Stauback [sic] and tell all my teammates I love them dearly.

Thank the Pro Football Hall of Fame, all the NFL teams and players, Florida A&M University, thank everyone who went to Mathew [sic] Gilbert High School, thank everyone in Jacksonville and Florida and everyone especially on the East Side of Jacksonville. Thank everyone in the City of Dallas and in Texas and just thank everyone in the whole world.

I love you all.