Sunday, February 24, 2008



Most people pointed a finger at indiscipline when Watson Nyambek retired prematurely from the track but was that really the reason why he hung up his spikes instead of pursuing his dream of becoming one of the world’s fastest men?

While on the threshold of surpassing Asia’s best with his precocious talent, having achieved a creditable personal best of 10.25s in the 100M, why did Watson – once dubbed the Flying Dayak – turn his back on sprinting that had made him the rage of Malaysian athletics?

Why didn’t he go for overseas training - to the US, or especially to England where he could have benefited from the tutelage of Olympic sprint champion, Lindford Christie, while he was still at his peak, instead of opting to train at home where top sprint coaches were and are still in short supply?

At 31 now, Watson has probably run out of time to become a world class sprinter but clocking sub-11 seconds in the 100M is still within his reach … and he knows it … provided he works hard.

But alas, while the urge is still there, he cannot find the inner strength or the will to give it one more go. Why?

In a quickchat with him, thesundaypost - apart from finding out what he is doing now and talking about his brief but glorious past – also posed this question: Is he still game for one last hurrah at a local meet such as the Sarawak AAA Open?

His record of 10.30 seconds in the century sprint remains intact so far but Watson has no regrets about putting up his feet … only bitterness for the sports he once loved.
In this interview, he frankly admitted that he quit top-flight sprinting because he wanted to “exorcise the demons” of his premature retirement from the sport.

Q: Many people are asking where are you now. They want to know what has happened to their hero?

A: I am now employed by the Sarawak State Sports Council as chief coach for the Sprint Project.
I have an IAAF coaching certificate from a course under Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU) coaches Hanapiah Nasir and Amparasu who conducted it in Sarikei in February.
There are several centres under this project throughout Sarawak – in Kuching, Sri Aman, Sarikei and Miri. I am involved with the Kuching centre where there are a handful of selected athletes training everyday.

Q: What is your target? Also, what do you emphasise in your training?

A: My emphasis is on power, strength and speed - the main requirements of sprint training. For power and strength, gym training is the answer while for speed or endurance, dashes over 50M, 80M or 120M at variable repetitions are the key. I do a lot of drills or exercises for strength and flexibility.

But one thing is very important as I have discovered and it is mental power.

As such, I stress the mental aspect of training a lot because success or failure in competitions also depends on how strong you are mentally.

As a coach, my ambition is to produce Watsons and more Watsons … and I don’t like the title of Flying Dayak.

Q: Why? The title was also given to other Iban sprinters like Terence Janting who was dubbed the “Flying Sea Dayak” by the British press in the 1960s and became a local sprint legend because of that?

A: It’s just a personal opinion but I don’t like the racial connotation – it’s like racial segregation.

Q: Do you think the Sprint Project can produce champions like yourself and what does it take to be a champion? Is a talent like you born or a product of proper grooming? Take the case of Boniface Lejau, the Miri runner many thought could be your successor. Why couldn’t he find success like you?

A: I agree top sprinters are natural talents. They are born with that special gift but they must also tap their potential with proper training. We had Terence Janting in the 1960s and Kom
Tinggang who I learn is another talented sprinter who came 10 years later in the 1970s. I myself arrived 20 years later.

It seems to follow a 10 or 20-year pattern but I feel there are a few potential champions I am working with in the Sprint Project.

There is one athlete, Ambrose Jilon, who is only 15 but has a best time of 10.8 seconds (hand-timed) in the 100M.

He won the MSSM 200M but in the 100M of the same meet, was not even among the top three.

It all boils down to mental strength which is what I am emphasising with the benefit of hindsight.

So I encourage Ambrose to cultivate a strong mental attitude. With that, he can do it – that is he can beat the others in the 100M because he has the talent.

Apart from Ambrose, another sprinter who can go far is Muzzakhir but he is more suited to the 200M which is his target.

Q: Who is your idol, and who were the world class sprinters you had raced against?

A: My idol is Ben Johnson even though he was disgraced … but my style is similar to his. Like his, my starts are very good.

During my time, I had raced against South Africa’s Olympic medallist Frankie Fredericks, Commonwealth Games 100M gold medallist Otto Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago and Lindford Christie of Great Britain.

Christie was special. I once dreamed of training under him - I prefer his training style to the US style.

Also, I had raced against the Japanese sprinters (the best in Asian) in the World Indoor Meets and the Asian Track and Field Championships.

Q: Do you like your present job of training people to be like you, and do you crave to be in the thick of the action again … to have another go perhaps at the local meets. Of course, you must trim down and regain your peak form to run again?

A: I love the job as I like to be back on the track again, and sometime, I do feel like running again but it’s just a fancy. I was not a wash-out when I retired even though I got defeated by runners like Reanchai of Thailand who beat me to the Sea Games gold.

In fact, I had beaten Reanchai, Wattanasin and all the famous Thai speed merchants when I competed in the Thai Open which I didn’t miss for several years … I had beaten them all.

I declined in my later years while still competing but it certainly was not due to Mumtaz Jaafar that my form dropped. It wasn’t even a case of a female coach being unable to coach but that I did not have a chance to go for overseas training and exposure.

I had proven I was better than my once archrival Azmi (Ibrahim) but he was given the opportunity to go to the US on an Olympic scholarships which I believed I should also be entitled to since I was better than he and had beaten him soundly in the 1996 Pahang Sukma with a record time of 10.38 seconds.

I recognise that overseas training under specialised coaches is a primary requirement for a local athlete to go up another level … to be world class … as I had broken the 100M record four times under the supervision of top class Canadian coach Daniel St Hilaire.

Under him, I had even done a wind- assisted 10.25 seconds during the heats of the Asian Games in Bangkok even though I could only manage 10.32 seconds to finish fourth in the final, won by Japan’s sub-10 seconds runner, Ito.

Reanchai was second and third ahead of me was another Japanese runner.

Q: So why did you give up and come back to Sarawak and never had the heart to run again?

A: Did you know I was on my way to fulfilling my dream of going to London and training under the great Lindford Christie when I received a call from the MAAU, telling me to come back.
It was after I ran in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics - I was awarded an OCI scholarship in 1997, being the undisputed top sprinter in Malaysia then.

In other words, I could not go even after all the agreement had been sealed and signed. I was literally stopped in my track and never recovered from the shock.
Remember my national record of 10.30 seconds still stands. Nobody can touch it since - not even Nazmizan Mohd, the present national sprint champion.

So, it was politics that killed my career. I do not want even to compete in local meets … for my own experience tells me that sports is reeked with politics.
There is too much pressure if I return to competition as I will directly come under the national spotlight again.

After the second Olympics I competed in Sydney, I started going down, and I returned home to Sarawak because I wanted to forget the episode and besides, training at that time was extra pressure on me.

Q: Was there any reason given or known to you why your plan to train under Christie was scuttled at the last moment?

A: I was told to cancel my flight … and there was no reason given. Maybe it was felt that Azmi was better than I but on hindsight I now know it’s politics but I didn’t understand it then.

Borneo Post, Julai 8 2007

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Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia