In the "good old days" when television, shopping malls, and information technology were not part of one's life, there were ample playing fields and spaces within the vicinity of the Government living quarters, where sporting activities in the evenings was the main event until the street lights came to illuminate the twilight before sunset. Parents, Headmasters, teachers and elder siblings tended to play a major role encouraging young kids to engage themselves in sporting activities. The idea that the mind developed through physical exercise was the prevalent belief in that era and there were no sound arguments to dispute the fact.
These areas became prime centres for sportspersons to flourish with their talents and history would document notable names like the Shepherdsons, Ratnams, Rajaratnam sisters, Van Huizen brothers, the Meahs, Sheikh Ali brothers, Choe brothers, Chua brothers, Thillainathan brothers, Dass brothers and many others. The most famous of them was the Vasagam family.
N M Vasagam, a government servant and a 440yd champion runner in the 1920s, was blessed with 4 boys who were either national athletes or sports administrators. Vasagam himself was founder Secretary of Malaya Amateur Athletic Union and the Malaya Olympic Council in 1955.
With such a pedigree Vasgam's offsprings were "a chip off the old block". The eldest boy M Veerasingam became the Secretary of Brunei Amateur Athletic Association, while the 2nd son M Balakrishnan participated in the 1954 Asian Games, while the 3rd,M Harichandra was a 880yd champion. Indeed Harichandra till today can do the distance in sufficiently good time and is actively engaged with Veterans Athletics in Singapore.
The most famous of the Vasagam sons is the 4th boy and he is no other than the one and only Mani Jegathesan. This lad has captivated the world from his sporting era to his medical career and finally to sports administration.
Popularly known as Jega, he was born in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar in 1943. He received his early education in the popular Batu Road School and thereafter at Victoria Institution (VI) and finally at Anglo Chinese School (ACS) in Singapore. He went on for tertiary education to University of Singapore and graduated in Medicine in 1967.
While at ACS, in 1960 at the tender age of 16, Jega represented Malaya at the Rome Olympic. This was the 1st of the 3 Olympics and 2 Asian Games over the next 8 years that he would represent the country as an athlete. Jega not only brought the medals but also broke records that still remain unbroken till today. In all this he was nicknamed as the "Flying Doctor" and the"Fastest man in Asia".
His curriculum vitae for athletics is voluminous particularly his achievements. This has become the hallmark of Jega as he enters other fields not necessary in sports alone. This is a person who has embodied the concept of excellence early in his life thereby having the passion of discipline and determination to strive for desired results. He is undoubtedly a "gifted and blessed" personality.
In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Jega clocked 20.9 secs for the 200 metres at the semi-final, which itself was a rare distinction for a Malaysian. He repeated this in the 1968 Mexico Olympic. It was in the same event in 1962 Jakarta Asian Games that Jega captured the gold for Malaysia.
Participating at any Olympic for any sportsperson is a pinnacle of a sporting career and it was no exception for Jega. However it was the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok that saw the "Golden Harvest" of gold medals by Malaysian athletes. Having colleagues like Nashatar Singh, M Rajamani, Subramaniam, Istiaq Mobarak, Asir Victor, M Rajalingam, Karu Selvaratnam and the likes of others only ensured Jega made a significant contribution to the harvest Jega hauled 3 golds for the 100metres, 200metres and for the 4 by 100metres. It is here he was embraced with the title of "Asia's Fastest Man".
Jega's name in Malaysia's athletic annals is so well engraved because some of his records still remain unbroken. His 200metres at 20.9secs and his 400metres at 46.3secs still stands after over 4 decades. His record for 100metres at 10.4 secs stood for nearly 30 years before it was shattered.
Athletes of those days did not have the luxury of the support of the current National Sports Council (NSC) which was not in existent then. Rather they had to slog based purely on the goodwill and encouragement of parents, teachers, friends and dedicated officials. Resources were difficult to come by, so that in itself provided the impetuses to perform for the sake of the generous support stretched out by well wishers. The thought of not wanting to let them down itself became a motivation to perform. It was quite a different world for athletes then.
Jega's extraordinary ability in athletics must be seen in the light of his educational pursuits. He was able to combine both which i must say was not quite unknown those days, although maybe doing medicine at University itself maybe an unusual feat. Jega must be portrayed as an example to our young kids as a person who was able to "grind" his way through studies and sports with the necessay distinctions. Maybe Jega himself may want to let our current sports administrators know what is there in his DNA that has made him such a remarkable person in sports and education. This may provide the necessary uplift for our current sportsperson.
While in University of Singapore from 1962 to 1967 doing his MBBS ie Medicine, Jega was already the "Fastest man in Asia". He was National Sportsman of the Year for 1966 as a University student and again in 1968 when he was a qualified Doctor. It would seem Dr Jega had the canny capability of achieving results in sports and education. To many it would be a figment of imagination but for Jega the term "impossible" is probably not in his vocabulary.
His qualification as a doctor also saw Dr Jega retiring from athletics after the Mexico Olympic. In 1967 he joined the Ministry of Health and in 1969 undertook a postgraduate qualification at Mahidol University in Bangkok. After achieving another postgraduate qualification DCP(London) in 1971, Dr Jega was appointed as Head of Bacteriology at the Institute of Medical Research (IMR) and held the position for 14 years till 1985. While at IMR he obtained his Fellowship in Pathology ie FRCPath(UK) in 1984 and in1985 he was posted as the Head of Laboratory Services General Hospital Kuala Lumpur (GHKL). 3 years later in 1988 he was appointed as Director of IMR, a post he held till 1994. It is in GHKL and IMR that he conducted extensive research particularly on infectious diseases & medical microbiology, and also produced more than 100 publications.
It is probably his microscopic outlook that ensured he became the Deputy Director General (Research & Technical Support) of the Ministry of Health for 4 years until his retirement in 1998. it must be said that in his working life Dr Jega was nationally and internationally known. Above all he was also linked to numerous organisations sitting in various capacities in a number of the Committees. Most of these were connected to World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNDP.
In the world of academia, Dr Jega had to grace it with his "Midas" touch. He is the Adjunct Professor in University Putra Malaysia for Medicine and similarly too for the Sports Centre at University Malaya. In 1995, Dr Jega was made a Fellow of the Academy of Science Malaysia and concurrently won the National Science Award.
The combination of sports and medicine is in Dr Jega's DNA and therefore his participation is part of a continuous process where he is elevated progressively to various positions. Now he is Deputy President of Olympic Council Malaysia (OCM), an organisation where his father was the founder Secretary. Dr Jega is also President of Malaysian Association of Doping Control Officers. He has sat in numerous Medical Commissions involving various sports and Games. The list is exhaustive and highly voluminous. A key aspect of his work involves doping in world sports.
For Dr Jega, athletics provided a gateway to other sports while the medicine and research gave him the insight to micro and macro manage sports. He held various positions in the Medical Committees in various sports both locally and internationally. All these had paved the way for him to become the Deputy Chef De Mission for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for the Malaysian contingent and then in 2004 he was Chef De Mission for the Athens Olympics. Effectively he was in 2 other Olympics representing the country as its top official, thereby giving him a total of 5 Olympics as a representative of Malaysia. I am sure this record would remain unbroken for many decades.
In fact to the length and breath of Malaysian sports there is no individual who can surpass Dr Jega's contribution. He has continued where his father left and taken numerous quantum leaps in comparison. What is even more interesting is than in whatever he is engaged,the results tend to reflect the excellence ideology that seem to be very much inbred in him. Unfortunately Malaysian sports has only one Dr Jega, and that is probably why we are not seeing the aspect of excellence seeping into the various veins in sports.
Married to Tan Lee Hong in 1969, the couple is blessed with 3 children. Dr Jega and wife, despite their busy lifestyle, have brought up their children well. As i have mentioned that Dr Jega has this ability in that whatever he does , he tends to do it well, so to in bringing up his children. I am also sure unlike his own father Dr Jega is not expecting any of them to follow his blazing trail. He probably wants them to enjoy what they do as he has done all this while.
On 5th June 2010,on the birthday of DYMM Yang Di Pertuan Agong, His Majesty bestowed on Dr Mani Jegathesan the title of "Tan Sri". This is a fitting tribute accorded by the nation to this model Malaysian,, who has shown that sports, education, and career can be effectively combined through a passionately disciplined and determined process, thereby creating a knowledgeable culture which is beneficial to the country.
Tan Sr Dr Mani Jegathesan extraordinaire reminds us that everything is possible if we set our hearts to it and that through a disciplined and determined process there will be no limitation to our achievements. Tan Sri Dr Jega is a living example of this as he has shown time and time again.