Striding on, round after round, against a picturesque dusk at the Kallang practice track yesterday, T. D. Rajendran appeared to be just another grey-haired competitor in the 5,000m race walk.
Except while the others soldiered on with sturdy-looking trainers at the Asia Masters Athletics Championships, he was barefooted.
Not that going without footwear impeded his race. The 80-year-old from India strolled to victory on the opening day of the five-day meet, winning the men's 80-84 category in 41min 14.12sec.
The managing director of a herb company in the town of Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, Rajendran said he has problems finding shoes that come in half sizes for his size 81/2 feet.
"My toenails have come off because I (previously) competed in shoes that did not fit well," he said yesterday, shortly after his win. "But it's okay, because if I wear shoes, I'm slower. Without shoes, I'm faster."
IN SEARCH OF COMFORT
My toenails have come off because I (previously) competed in shoes that did not fit well. But it's okay, because if I wear shoes, I'm slower. Without shoes, I'm faster.
T.D. RAJENDRAN, winner of the 5,000m race walk in the men's 80-84 age category at the Asia Masters Athletics Championships, on why he raced barefooted.
A grandfather of six, Rajendran said he tried pole vaulting while in school but then spent the bulk of his adulthood away from sport. Getting active again was purely accidental - in every sense of the word.
He signed up for a full marathon in 2010, simply because it was rare for an event like that to be held in Sivakasi, a town with a population of about 70,000. But on his first foray back into athletics, Rajendran, unfamiliar with the route, completed 8km more than the 42.195km required.
He has been hooked since, taking part in events ranging from the 4x100m relay, to the 1,500m, to race walks and marathons. After every race, he studiously records his time and result onto a printed document spanning four pages.
Yesterday was his 47th race, he proudly proclaimed. He will also compete in the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m events in Singapore.
"Taking part in all these events helps to keep me strong and healthy," he said.
Singapore's Ajit Singh, the home side's oldest athlete, won the men's 85-89 category.
As the only competitor in his age category, the former national hockey and cricket player was assured of a medal from another sport. But the 89-year-old, a hockey player at the 1956 Olympics, while gunning for a more satisfying goal, got the personal best that he had hoped for.
He completed the 5,000m race walk in 49:03.62, breaking the 50min barrier for the first time.
"I couldn't sleep the night before. I woke up at 1.30am because I was so excited about the race," said Ajit, who was cheered on at every lap by family members.
Several of Singapore's biggest athletics stars of yesteryear also took to the track yesterday. U. K. Shyam showed the years had not slowed him, easily qualifying for today's 100m final (men's 35-39) after clocking 11.54sec in the semi-finals at the National stadium. The 39-year-old, who still holds the national mark of 10.37sec, ran 11.48sec in the heats and qualified second-fastest for the final.
Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei also laced on spikes. The 61-year-old clocked 15.24sec in the heats, finishing 18th out of 19 runners.