It was about summer in 1980, the moment before I started science stream study in preparation for my O-level examinations. I bought a book that was about track and field training.
I could not care too much about the examination as it was supposed to be in 1983. Two years away was a long time for a 14 years old boy. However, I knew my mathematics. Approximately 250 boys were in my year at my school, and about 60 would move onto A-level matriculation. I figured out all I needed to do was to stay among that 60, even as the 60th boy would be OK.
The book was written in Chinese but judging from the content and photographs, it was translated from a Japanese book as the author was Mr. 小泉真二良. He was a middle-distance runner (my kind of guy), except he was breaking records in Japan, and I was a skinny wannabe, which my school team ditched. I still consider Mr. 小泉真二良 as my first mentor even though I never met him. That book covered all track and field events and their various specific and general training principles. Core and supplementary training suggestions included helping granny sweep the floor and knead heavy rice cake dough. Subsequently, I found out Mr. 小泉真二良 was the 1963 All Japan high school 1500m champion (4’05’05, clay track).
The book also mentioned the name of this outstanding runner – 柴吐劈克. Four Chinese characters probably meant it was a 4 syllables name of a foreigner. At around that time, the world was anticipating the 1980 Moscow Olympics. TV shows were re-capping the stars of a few earlier Olympic games. One of the stars was Mr Emil Zatopek, who won 5000m, 10000m, and the marathon in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic, an unprecedented feat yet to be duplicated. This episode dwarfed the fact that he also won Gold at the 1948 London Olympic 10000m and silver in 5000m! He was famous for his unique/unconventional running form and a grimacing facial contortion, however IMHO he projects a sense of joy; iconic joy. He once quipped that he was not talented enough to run fast and look handsome at the same time. Run with joy was my Singapore captain’s motto too.
Mr Zatopek lived in a challenging period. He had a humble life and died an old man. 柴吐劈克 was Zatopek from Czechoslovakia!!
In the same book, I also learnt that the Japanese author mentioned something to the effect of ‘humility is the foundation to climb hills’. I kept it in my heart, tried to keep myself grounded and not to let things get into my head (semi-successfully).
Fast forward 3 decades, it took my Japanese friend, Dr Chiemi Yoshida to educate me that it was a Chinese philosopher’s saying, taught in Japanese primary school!!!