Obituary: Former Olympian and legendary athletics coach M. Harichandra dies aged 92

M. Harichandra represented Malaya at the 1956 Olympics before coming to Singapore and bringing his love of athletics along. PHOTO: NEW NATION

SINGAPORE - Tributes have poured in for former Olympian and iconic athletics coach M. Harichandra, who died on Wednesday (June 29) aged 92.

Harichandra, who was born in Port Dickson, represented Malaya in the 800m at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne before coming to Singapore to work as a prisons officer.

In doing so, he brought along his love of athletics to the Republic and Singapore sport was the better for it.

Here, he trained young track and field athletes, including the likes of middle-distance ace Serjit Singh, whose national 1,500m record of 3min 53.1sec stood for 23 years before being lowered by Chamkaur Singh (3:52.66) in 2001.

Years later, Serjit, who had had a difficult upbringing, spoke about Harichandra's impact on him, saying the coach showed him how to "contain his fire and transform it into an art".

"Mr Hari was a great sportsman ... He took me home, gave me home-cooked food," said the 800 bronze medallist at the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular (Seap) Games. "I changed from a wild boy to someone who brought honour to Singapore."

While he was active on the coaching scene, Harichandra, the elder brother of Malaysian sprint legend Mani Jegathesan, the 100m and 200m champion at the 1966 Asian Games, also continued to race.

At the first edition of the 1975 World Masters Athletic Championships in Canada, Harichandra won a silver in the 400m.

In 1978, he started the Singapore Masters Athletics Association to provide senior athletes with an avenue to remain competitive.

Singapore sprint legend C. Kunalan credited Harichandra for his comeback to athletics in 1973, after he quit the sport following a disappointing campaign at the 1970 Asian Games, where he finished third in the 100m and 200m.

In 1973, he received a call from Harichandra, who had heard that Kunalan had been training again.

Although Kunalan was running again mainly to get his fitness up as he prepared for his role as torch bearer for the 1973 Seap Games' opening ceremony on home soil, Harichandra persuaded him to go for trials.

He was then selected to be part of the 4x400m team that eventually won a silver medal at the 1973 Games.

Kunalan, 79, lauded Harichandra for his dedication, saying: "He really put his heart and soul into coaching. The one month before the Seap Games, he had eight boys under him and he said, 'All of you stay in my house'.

"At that time, he was a prison officer at Queenstown and he had living quarters there, so these boys were given space to stay there so they could train twice a day. He wanted to make sure they were disciplined and not fooling around. That was the kind of the coach he was."

That was one example of how generous and passionate about the sport his father was, said Harichandra's son Rohan, who recalled how his mother also looked after the athletes by cooking meals for them while they stayed with them.

M. Harichandra (right) passing the baton to team-mate M Singh in the 4 x 400m at the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association open relay championships in 1972. PHOTO: ST FILE

The 62-year-old airline captain said: “It wasn’t just a job where he went to the track and trained people, he made them family. To the point where even the family knew nothing else – every evening, it was either the track or we were home.”

He added: “He was always very kind. Even though we weren’t rich, we were very average but we enjoyed the good things in life and shared it among ourselves.”

Quah Kim Tiong, 68, who won a silver (4x200m) and gold (4x400m) at the 1975 Seap Games, told The Straits Times: "I really would like to thank Mr Hari for the hard work and dedication he put into bringing out the best in me.

"I will always remember him at the national stadium when we had training sessions at the annex training ground with his wife, son and daughter. They were always together... it was like a family outing daily.

"It was hard work, it was tough, but we had the results that mattered in the end."

Harichandra's funeral was held on Thursday. He leaves behind his wife Thangarasi, son Rohan, daughter Anita and their families.

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