Athletics: Former Singapore sprinter U. K. Shyam launches book of his journey to 100m record

A 2010 file photo of U.K. Shyam. His book Running On Empty: The Story Behind 0.01s was officially launched at the Singapore Sports Hub Library, on Sept 15, 2018.
A 2010 file photo of U.K. Shyam. His book Running On Empty: The Story Behind 0.01s was officially launched at the Singapore Sports Hub Library, on Sept 15, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - After he completed his A-Level examinations, U. K. Shyam decided he wanted to try and qualify for the 1997 SEA Games as part of the 4x100m relay team.

Then receiving a stipend of less than $1,000 a year as a national athlete, he also took up a job as a waiter at a restaurant chain that paid him $30 a day.

With his single mother barely making ends meet as a tutor, and his own income inadequate to cover training needs in addition to basic necessities like food and transportation, Shyam had to scrimp.

So one of the things he resorted to was eating leftovers of restaurant patrons. He would pay attention to diners who were more hygienic, and would secretly consume their uneaten food before putting the dishes in the dishwasher.

"Thankfully, I am now in a position I don't have to do that anymore," said the 42-year-old, a knowledge and inquiry lecturer at Hwa Chong Institution.

"But that memory always reminds me of what it was like when times were really tough. It is something I will never forget."

Nuggets like these are in his book "Running on Empty: The Story Behind 0.01s", which was officially launched on Saturday (Sept 15) at the Singapore Sports Hub Library.

Even though he hung up his spikes in 2005, Shyam still holds the national record of 10.37sec, which he clocked twice in 2001. He broke the previous mark of 10.38, set by former national sprinter C Kunalan at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

The 75-year-old Kunalan was among the crowd of about 100 that attended Shyam's book launch and was one of the people Shyam paid tribute to during an hour-long sharing session.

Another was former national Ang Peng Siong, who offered him a job at his swim school in 2000, allowing him to resume competitive training four months after he quit citing a lack of support from the Singapore Athletic Association (now called Singapore Athletics).

Shyam said he wanted to share such stories of support - and in many cases a lack of it - in his book because he felt they are reflective of "real issues" faced by Singaporean athletes, even today.

The 285-page book, written by former national sprinter Kenneth Khoo, chronicles his testy relationship with the Singapore Athletic Association, and the sacrifices he endured to become the Republic's fastest man.

Khoo said he was intrigued by Shyam's journey to become a national record-holder as it was a "story of imperfection".

The 36-year-old said: "If you're a reader thinking there will be a Hollywood blockbuster ending with a gold medal around his neck, you'd be wrong.

"His defining achievement is a national record and a silver medal at a SEA Games (both in 2001) which he did not even get (monetary reward) for - but the struggle to achieve those things was what I felt was worth sharing."

When asked how he felt about his record still being intact after 17 years, Shyam said: "It's the only achievement I had from my career, so obviously I'd be sad if it's broken.

"But at the same time, I want it to be broken, because that would mean the sport has moved on. It has been so many years and there have been improvements in the system, such as the (formation of the Singapore) Sports School.

"And if the record is not broken soon, we'll have to ask ourselves why, considering these improvements to the system."

He and Khoo will donate all their royalties from the book, which amount to about 10 per cent of sales, to the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund.