Athletics: Sprint icon Kunalan feted with 2 art pieces

C. Kunalan holding the right foot, called "Best Foot Forward", while the right hand, called "Passing The Baton", sits in the corner. Both pieces are by artist Baet Yeok Kuan.
C. Kunalan holding the right foot, called "Best Foot Forward", while the right hand, called "Passing The Baton", sits in the corner. Both pieces are by artist Baet Yeok Kuan.ST PHOTO: JASMINE CHOONG

As an 11-year-old, Lim Teck Yin attended the opening ceremony for the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games as a spectator at the old National Stadium, and one memory of sprinter C. Kunalan has stayed with him till this day.

"As (Kunalan) entered the stadium for the final lap, the fuel from the torch spilt over, so the flames came down to engulf his hand," said Lim, who is now chief executive officer of national sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG).

"All the spectators could see his hand was being burnt, but he did not flinch or stop.

"Subsequently, when he was competing, you could see that his hand was bandaged."

Lim said the incident speaks of the indomitable spirit that makes Kunalan the perfect person to start an arts and heritage project that is being rolled out by SportSG and the Singapore Sports Hub.

The project hopes to tell inspiring stories about the Singapore sporting journey.

As part of this project, the Sports Hub yesterday unveiled two pieces of art to honour the track and field icon.

They will be on permanent display at the Singapore Sports Museum in Kallang.

The pieces, by local artist Baet Yeok Kuan, are casts of Kunalan's right hand holding a relay baton, called "Passing The Baton" and his right foot, called "Best Foot Forward".

At the ceremony, which marked the first time a local athlete had been honoured this way, Kunalan, one of Singapore's most distinguished sportsmen with 15 SEAP and five Asian Games medals, paid tribute to his wife and two daughters.

The former teacher and lecturer, who turns 76 on Tuesday, was also presented with a birthday cake by Singapore Athletics (SA) president Tang Weng Fei.

In typically modest fashion, he said he thought the adulation he received was "a bit much" and felt he did not deserve the attention.

But he said: "They made the artefacts with a theme, and I think it's a quite appropriate one.

"To pass on the baton (symbolises) passing on experience, or maybe knowledge.

"And of course the foot is where it all starts - anybody interested in taking part in sports should let their legs do the talking."

The two-time Sportsman of the Year (1968 and 1969) is best known for setting the former 100m national record of 10.38 seconds in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics.

It was a mark which stood for 33 years until U.K. Shyam rewrote it with a 10.37sec effort in 2001.

Even in his 70s, Kunalan is actively involved in sport, working with young children in the ActiveSG athletics academy.

From 2010-2016, he also served as vice-president (training and selection) for SA.

Sports Hub chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik quipped: "He's just different.

"As he gets older, he seems to get faster and do more."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2018, with the headline 'Sprint icon Kunalan feted with 2 art pieces'. Print Edition | Subscribe