The First SUKMA Experience


SUKMA or Malaysian Games was completed over a month ago. The biennial sports meet, hosted by Perak, featured twelve cycling events: cross country, downhill, BMX, individual time trial, mass start, criterium, individual pursuit, sprint, keirin, 500m and 1000m time trial, scratch race, and team pursuit. All thirteen states, Federal Territories and Brunei took part.

What’s the big deal about SUKMA?

It is the pinnacle of Malaysian sports development (21 years old & under). At SUKMA, you get a glimpse into our country’s sporting future. You see the up and coming talents to be selected to be part of SUKMA is a big deal, to win a medal is an even bigger deal. The best of Malaysia are put through a two-week test, and the best rise to the top.

What was it like to prepare for SUKMA?

Depending on the periodization plan, I’ve seen teams riding 1000km (about 30 hours a week), or over 4 hours per day. To be medal contenders, cyclists need at least 16 to 25 hours a week in a combination of strength workouts in the gym, indoor ergo sessions, time in the velodrome and on the road. They expend 12,000 to 20,000 calories a week, almost double that of a sedentary middle-aged man.

An athlete’s itinerary can look like this:

Many stick to a routine like this for many months. They choose to skip parties, family gatherings because they need to sleep early or the activities clash with the training schedule. School grades may dip. They see their coaches and teammates more than their family. Not many can stomach such a monastic lifestyle, but they learn a great cause requires a great sacrifice; and the greater the gain they desire, the greater the pain they must endure.

In the qualifying round of Team Pursuit, Sabah did our worst run ever. We made every mistake in the book. The good news was we still qualified for bronze medal duel against Perak. At our post-race team meeting, the kids told me, “Coach, we have discussed amongst ourselves and here are the things we need to change for tomorrow’s race.” Right there, that’s ownership of the vision, reflection, critical thinking, and teamwork from the athletes. At that instance, I felt I had succeeded in my job even if we didn’t win. My bosses, of course, want nothing less than a medal, and we delivered.

We made history winning our state’s first ever medal in Team Pursuit. “Is it worth it?” I asked the boys. The hypebeasts can flaunt a pair of RM10,000 Yeezy Boost on Instagram, but no money can buy the SUKMA medal hanging on our necks or the collective experience of prevailing in a David vs Goliath struggle.

Not everyone who sacrificed won a medal. The sting of a disappointment is just as real as the euphoria of a win. As a coach, my heart goes first to those who are hurting. The parent in me want to remove the pain, but the coach in me knows pain is necessary to forge resolve and resolute. A hug, an assurance of support and unconditional love to let them know I am their coach – in defeat or victory. I ain’t going anywhere. 

A wise coach taught me, “You either win or you learn. If you’ve learned something, then you have not lost.” To all who competed at SUKMA 2018, well done. Whether you had won or learned, I pray the experiences will prepare you not just for the next bike race, but for the race of your life.

About the Author

Louis is a certified UCI level 2 coach working full time for Sabah Sports Council. He is a firm believer in science and data collection in sports. When he is not coaching, he tries to catch up on sleep, read a book or binge watch TV series.

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