I REMEMBER: FARRER PARK ATHLETIC CENTRE

Training ground for S'pore's sporting legends

Farrer Park produced top athletes such as former national sprinter C. Kunalan (on the right in inset picture).
Farrer Park produced top athletes such as former national sprinter C. Kunalan (on the right in inset picture).PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN AND ST FILE

The 1960s were a time when Singapore had a host of track stars, and Farrer Park was where all the action was.

At the Farrer Park Athletic Centre in the central part of town, runners, throwers and jumpers gathered almost daily to push themselves to be faster, stronger and better.

"Whatever games we went to, on average, we won three to four golds, three to four silvers and three to four bronzes," recalled former national hurdler Osman Merican.

Mr Merican, who was born in Penang, became a Singapore citizen in 1965 and represented the new nation at the South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games in Kuala Lumpur at the end of that year. He won the 110m hurdles event and broke the Games record.

At the Asian Games in Bangkok in 1966, he set a Singapore record with an electronic-timed 14.76sec. That record lasted 42 years until Abdul Hakeem Abdul Halim clocked 14.45sec at the Asean University Games in 2008.

Fifty years ago this week, Mr Merican was quoted in The Straits Times as one of the athletes criticising the new bitumen track rolled out at the athletic centre.

Revisiting what is left of his former stomping ground, Mr Merican, now 76, told The Sunday Times: "It was not a shock absorber... it was like the road and could hurt your legs."

The athletic centre opened in 1956 and was phased out after the Kallang National Stadium was completed in the 1970s. Farrer Park no longer has a running track, and parts of it have given way to Farrer Park Primary School and housing blocks.

Despite its less than ideal track and spartan facilities, Farrer Park produced top athletes such as former national sprinters C. Kunalan and Glory Barnabas, with the support of coaches such as the late Tan Eng Yoon.

Barnabas won gold in the 200m sprint at the 1973 Seap Games. It took 42 years before another Singaporean, Shanti Pereira, won in the same event at the just-concluded SEA Games in Singapore.

"The significance of Farrer Park was that it was the most popular athletic training centre. It was where the bulk of the top Singapore athletes trained together," said Mr Merican, a retired police inspector.

Recalling the lively scene at Farrer Park, he said hawkers along nearby Hampshire Road knew the athletes by name and fans would turn up to watch the sportsmen compete or even train.

The camaraderie among the athletes was strong. "Everybody knew everybody. We met each other every day and looked forward to going to games together," he said.

They also spurred one another on.

"When you train in a big group, you want to excel. You feel good when people say you are doing well," he said.

Male and female athletes trained together and romance blossomed between some of them.

Mr Merican himself married fellow national hurdler Heather Siddons, but they divorced in the 1980s and he later remarried.

Now a grandfather of three, he counts himself blessed to have been among the legends of Farrer Park.

"The records that the Farrer Park athletes established lasted 30 to 40 years," he said. "That shows you the overall standards and the kind of physical training that led us to be able to do all this."

Ho Ai Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 21, 2015, with the headline 'Training ground for S'pore's sporting legends'. Print Edition | Subscribe