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“C. Kunalan – Singapore’s Greatest Track and Field Athlete”, by Steven Quek
  • May 4th, 2010


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For nearly four decades he captivated us with his dedication on and off the track. Canagasabai Kunalan or C. Kunalan and Mr.K as he’s affectionately called, was a late bloomer in athletics.

Once discovered, he never looked back and trail blazed his way into history and the record books as Singapore’s Greatest Track and Field Athlete.

Indeed an appropriate title for a coffee book table autobiography recently published earlier this year. It was researched and compiled by Steven Quek, an ex-colleague of Mr.K at the National Institute of Education.

I myself would have missed out on the book if I was not informed by a friend. After getting my hands on the autobiography, it was a constant travelling companion as I took the public transport.

The book is filled with life stories, anecdotes and experiences of Singapore’s beloved sports icon, and it was a fascinating read.

Previously all of my knowledge of the man himself was all from the print media, but now there’s insights to C.Kunalan’s personal, work and life on the track, all 168 pages of it.

As a former varsity athlete now weekend warrior, reading the book I was forced to look at my own struggles in life, although pale in comparison, I could relate plenty to what was written.

After completing reading the book, I still had questions, so I approached Mr.K for more details into the publication, and some stuff beyond the book. Below is his response.


On the book collaboration

Q) How did the collaboration with Steven Quek came about?

Two other people had approached me about writing an autobiography, but as Steven Quek was my colleague occupying the office next to mine at Physical Education & Sports Science/National Institute of Education (PESS/NIE), it felt natural to give him the go-ahead.

Q) What was your collaboration objective?

I am not sure I had any objective. But I knew from Steven’s previous publications, that his objectives were always to publish something directly useful for young people, young people involved in sports.

Q) How long did the collaboration took?

It took 3 or 4 years, but that was because Steven didn’t work with any publisher from the beginning. Only after getting the chapters ready did he approach the publisher.


Beyond the book

Q) In the book you mentioned the importance of having your own car several times. I would think that reflect of your effort to efficiently make full use of your time. What does time management means to you. Any advise for athletes on time management?

It was more like having some kind of transport. Although after we got married and set up our own home and we got our car, it was more for Yoong Yin to be mobile as a mother and full-time teacher.

So in 1967, after struggling for a few months with a not very reliable 60 cc Honda Cub, I got a scooter, and I went through two lambrettas and a vespas from then till 2001 when I stopped riding.

This mode of transport was so crucial for me to get from work, to home, to training and back home with least loss of time. I would do all again if I have to.

Q) The book I read your employer was kind enough to provide you paid leave on occasion. How important was such support back then, in what ways did it helped you.

By this I meant that athletes were given time off to train full-time a couple of weeks before major competitions like SEAP, Asian, Commonwealth and Olympics.

Before the Tokyo Olympics it was a month of Centralized Training. For that we were housed in the Police Academy; for the 1966 Asian Games it was in a rented Housing Board unit just next to the Farrer Park Stadium, for one of the SEAP Games we were housed in the changing rooms of Farrer Park and sleeping on army folding canvas “beds”.


Farrer Park Stadium – Image via ivyidaong4.blogspot.com & National Archives of S’pore

But although conditions were “primitive” we felt that we were supported. Of course, the best part was that we were on “unrecorded full pay leave” and we could prepare for the competition with peace of mind.

Most of the athletes were civil servants and so all it needed was one letter from one ministry to another.

I guess even private sector employers were just as cooperative.

Q) Comparatively, I myself observed many of our current senior athletes who struggled, and toiled in their pursuit without much support from their employer. What advise do you have for them?

I feel this is a big gap in our system. All ministries and private sector employers should relook at their support systems for Singapore’s sportsmen and women.

Of course, private sector employers should be given “incentives” like tax breaks when they take on national athletes in their company.

The athletes also must play their part. Don’t abuse the privileges when they are given; eat well, REST WELL, training intelligently and with heart and soul.

Be fair to your employers, be fair to yourself, be fair to your fans, family and friends. SHOW RESULTS for their support for sports.

Q) I read the book, and some of the example workouts looks punishing. Can you recall what was the worst workout you ever did?

Actually I wish i had known that I needed to push to what you say was “punishing” kind of training to accomplish certain adaptations within the muscles. I mean at the highest level, there would be certain workouts like that.

I have heard from overseas athletes – example when I was at the Commonwealth Games in 1966. I happened to talk to the 200m champion when I met him at the dining hall. One workout he described had me thinking “impossible”. I now understand why I faltered at the 1970 Asian Games 200m finals (Kunalan took the bronze in 21.5s).

In the early days, one workout which I dreaded was 150m x 5 at close to 100% with walk back rest interval,about 3-4 minutes.

We might be able to do 2 at that intensity and recovery, after that fear would set in and I would not give that intensity, but that is what was needed, so you reap what you sow.

Of course this is only to be done with great care and common sense and at the right moments, because you are on the border of injury “an die grenz der verletzung” in German I heard it once during a course in Germany.

Q) The book talked about much of your comeback after ‘retirement’. What do you think attribute on your longevity in sprinting, and competing.

Actually anyone can do this, but even so, I was not satisfied with what I did in my comeback years.

But that could be because i could not devote sufficient time to training, so anyone with the passion can do it, provided he or she trains sufficiently for it – “cannot bluff”.

Q) Your Achilles injury, does it still persist?

I wish i could understand the cause or causes.

These last 4 months i have been suffering with some kind of pain just below the Achilles tendon, but then I am stubborn and impatient.

I only talk about good planning etc but when it comes to doing it for myself now I fail badly.


On the book outcome

Q) Was there any contribution you felt that was important, but didn’t make print, or left-out on the editing cutting board?

Maybe just one of two, generally Steven covered most of the important areas.

Of course as we came up with new material, Steven felt bad about asking the publishers to make last minute inclusions.

But I think Steven will produce a 2nd edition if necessary. But first Steven got to sell those 1,500 copies from the first edition.

Q) What do you think of the book itself, are you satisfied overall?

I am waiting for some honest feedback from those who have read it, I am sure Steven would also like that.

Q) Would there be another series of C.Kunalan book perhaps in the future? Maybe a more detailed approached on training and the specifics workout.

Much of it is forgotten, but specific workouts can be found at so many sites nowadays. So much information is available about planning, periodization, various Phases of the training year – like the loading, recovery, peaking, competition, recovery.


Buy the Book

“C. Kunalan – Singapore’s Greatest Track and Field Athlete”, by Steven Quek can be bought at local bookstores for around $30. Do purchase it, as you’re in part supporting local Singapore Athletics.

Title: C. Kunalan: Singapore’s Greatest Track And Field Athlete by Quek, Steven C.H.

Price: US$20.88 (SGD29.00*)

Format: Paper Back, 168 pages

Published: 2010, Singapore, 1st Edition

ISBN: 9789814266536

Category: Culture & People » Biographies/autobiographies » Singapore


Get the Book for FREE!

I’m giving away two copy of the book for free. Just answer a simple question below, and use the online form to submit your answer. Two random user with the correct answer will be picked by 31st May 2010. I’ll contact you after that and please provide an address for me to SingPost parcel the book. No responses from the winner within 2-3 days, I’ll award the book to the next correct random user. No duplicate entries please.

The Question

Where does Mr.K works?

Online Form

[contact-form 1 "Contact form 1"]


Extra: C.Kunalan and YOG

Below is C.Kunalan’s latest effort in supporting sports and athletics in Singapore. He does the para-para dance moves (0:55 minute marker) in this music video below for the upcoming Youth Olympic Games. Cheesy but adorable and catchy. Let’s para-para now … yeah oh yeah oh yeah.

You Are The One, Singapore (Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010)

Credit: Canagasabai Kunalan for the insights into the book and his shagadelics para-para moves, Steven Quek and Wings Athletics Club for the photos.

Posted by Uncle Sha.
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