His medal haul for Singapore is modest when compared to the likes of swimmers Joseph Schooling, Joscelin Yeo or Patricia Chan. But C. Kunalan remains an immensely-respected figure in Singapore sports, both for his record-setting feats on the sprint track, as well as his teaching contributions.
The former national 100m record-holder has now been honoured with an art piece by Singapore artist Baet Yeok Kuan, which features silver-coloured casts of Kunalan’s hand and foot. The artefact was unveiled and placed on permanent display at the Singapore Sports Museum on Friday (19 October).
Yet Kunalan, who will turn 76 on 23 October, admitted that he had reservations when he was initially approached for the project.
Grinning sheepishly, he told Yahoo News Singapore, “I thought it was a bit too much lah. I felt that I had not done much to deserve this kind of adulation and attention.”
He was eventually convinced to take part because he felt the art piece would help in preserving Singapore’s sports heritage and educating future generations on what the pioneering athletes of the country had done.
“We must always be willing to cooperate and work with our partners,” said Kunalan, who was inducted into the Sports Museum Hall of Fame in 2002. “I thought the art piece was very nicely done. My hand cast is holding a baton, which symbolises that we should pass on our experience and knowledge. And the foot cast, to me, symbolises where it all started for a sprinter like me.”
Kunalan burst into prominence in the 1960s, as he took part in the 1964 and 1968 Summer Olympics. At the 1968 Games in Mexico City, he ran the 100m sprint in 10.38 seconds, a national record that stood for 33 years before U.K. Shyam lowered it by 0.01sec in 2001.
During his sprinting career, the two-time Sportsman of the Year (1968 and 1969) won 15 medals – four of them golds – at the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, as well as one silver and four bronzes at the Asian Games.
Even before his sporting career ended in 1979, he had also taken up the mantle of an educator. It would his calling for almost 50 years of his life, until his retirement in 2010, as he taught for 20 years at primary and secondary schools before lecturing at the National Institute of Education for three decades.
Kunalan has also been an ambassador for sports, often appearing at major sports events and celebrations in Singapore. He was a member of the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee when the inaugural edition was held in 2010, and also served in various capacities with Sport Singapore and Singapore Athletics.
Singapore Sports Hub chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik paid tribute to Kunalan’s dedication to Singapore sports, saying, “It is important that we remember his story here at the Singapore Sports Museum, so that others can learn from it and be motivated by it.
“Achievements aside, his dedication to volunteering at the museum and imparting his wisdom to others is extraordinary. This makes him an excellent role model to all.”
In his thank-you speech after unveiling the art piece, Kunalan paid tribute to his family – wife Elizabeth and daughters Mona and Gina were present at the ceremony – for sticking through thick and thin with him.
He said, “This experience has been fun and I feel very humbled by it all. I am just glad that I can share my story…I wish I could do more for the community because this is the community that has given me so many opportunities in life.”
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