March 9, 2018
By Haresh Deol
ASHVINDERJEET SINGH walks at remarkable speeds as his hips dance gracefully to the rhythm of his pace.
He goes around the track at the Titiwangsa Lake Gardens’ Astaka almost daily, under the watchful eyes of his coach V. Subramaniam, the 1978 National Sportsman of the Year.
Walking, in athletics, is an art. It requires little investment (in equipment) but promises the greatest gift any Malaysian athlete yearns for – an Olympic medal.
“Some of my friends say walking is more suited for girls, because of the way the hips move. But I don’t care,” said Ashvinderjeet, who turns 14 on April 24.
Ashvinderjeet could turn out to be Kuala Lumpur’s medal prospect in the National Schools Sports Council (MSSM) athletics meet next month. He hopes to make the city team during the selection process scheduled next week.
“My personal best in the 5km event is 27 minutes but I hope to record 24 minutes if I compete in MSSM,” he said.
Born in Ipoh, the former SK Danau Kota 2 student started off running in the 800m event and earned a spot at SMK Seri Titiwangsa, a school that houses some of the best student athletes in the city.
“My coaches at that time noticed I had the right techniques in walking and decided I should switch from running to walking.”
When asked why walking when it’s almost every boy’s dream to be a footballer, shuttler or hockey player, he said: “I don’t like hockey. I never thought much about the other sports.
“I’ve fallen in love with walking, especially with coach Subramaniam guiding me all the way.”
“I hope to be the next Narinder Singh,” Ashvinderjeet said, in reference to the former national walker who holds the national 20km walk record of 1:24:50s set in 1997.
Narinder’s SEA Games record of 1:33:47.87s, set in 1999 in Brunei, was smashed by Indonesian Hendro (1:32:11.0s) in Kuala Lumpur last year.
Walking, a sporting event that is often overlooked, has contributed the most SEA Games gold medals for the national athletics team, said Subramaniam.
“Just look at our record. When I was a walker, I won six SEA Games gold medals. As a coach, my walkers have won nine. I even qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics (which Malaysia eventually boycotted),” added Subramaniam who has coached, among others, Annastasia Karen Raj, Shahrulhaizy Abdul Rahman, Loo Choon Sieng and Narinder.
“We even won a Commonwealth Games gold medal through G. Saravanan (50km walk at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur). So why aren’t we focusing on a sport that has been delivering medals all this while?”
Subramaniam, who is coaching several Kuala Lumpur walkers ahead of the upcoming MSSM and Malaysia Games (Sukma) and runs a stall in Taman Mewah, Ampang serving Western food, also won a silver medal (20km) at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok and two bronze medals at the Asian Track and Field (1979, 1981).
The 69-year-old said walking should be part of our culture.
“Walking is for everyone, young or old. It’s healthy and if we have talents, they can ensure medals and honour for the country. Let’s take walking seriously,” he added.
Subramaniam, who will share his insights on the sport on BFM’s ‘Bar None’ programme tomorrow (March 10) at 10am, is spot on.
The sporting aspect aside, Malaysians should embrace walking and make it as part of their lifestyle. It’s fine if you park slightly away from the entrance of a mall or your favourite restaurant. It’s way better if you walk for an hour instead of jogging or running for just 10 or 20 minutes. Try taking the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Small things like these can make a whole lot of difference.
The Malaysian Athletics Federation should look at its medal prospects in walking instead of just gunning for glory in short distance events. Companies could contribute by organising walking events – similar to the now defunct Malay Mail Big Walk.
Having more walking events will encourage more people to walk, just like how more and more marathons, runs and cycling events are held nationwide annually.
Walking is the most basic form of exercise that can be wholesome for the family. All you need is a good pair of shoes.
Here’s hoping more Malaysians will embrace walking – just like how some have injected cycling and running into their daily lives. Who knows, you could be our next Olympian.
It’s time we made bigger strides in walking.
*Haresh Deol is a multi-award winning journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter (@HareshDeol)