POAD Kassim has single-handedly revolutionised sprinting in Malaysia with the emergence of a young band of athletes breaking all records in their way. The Bandar Penawar-based coach shares his thoughts with Timesport’s about what made the likes of Khairul Hafiz Jantan successful and his hopes for the future.
Question: How did you end up at Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School?
Answer: I started teaching and coaching in 1997 at SK Sungai Udang in Melaka. Over the next six years, I studied for my certificate and became a Level One coach. After eight years, I moved to the Malacca sports school at SMK Seri Kota. I was there for over five years and during that time I obtained my Level Three coaching certificate under Robert Ballard.
At the 2012 National Schools Championships in Kuantan, Melaka won eight gold medals in sprint events and it was then that I felt confident about leaving the state. I applied for a position at one of the national sport schools and was successful with TMISS.
Q: How did you identify the talent of athletes like Badrul Hisyam Manap and Khairul Hafiz Jantan?
A: Badrul started sprinting at the age of 10 in primary school and he used to come to the training venue with his teacher and that is where I first identified his talent.
For Khairul, he was 15 and running in a district meet when I first saw him. I got hold of him and asked if he was interested in making athletics a career. At first, I managed to get him to come to train in the evenings at Seri Kota. His father used to bring him to training each time.
Q: What convinced you that Khairul had the potential to become a record-breaking sprinter?
A: What I saw was that his body structure is unique, his legs are longer than his upper body. That is an advantage for a sprinter.
Even without systematic training, he was already running quite fast. That is why I decided to take him under my wings.
Q: What methods did you use to bring out the best in Khairul Hafiz?
A: The training methods I employ is simply what I have learned over the years from courses and experience since 1997. I also learned a lot about training techniques from the Internet and to keep up to date with the latest developments.
When Ballard was the Malaysian Athletics Federation technical director, I also learned a lot from him as I obtained my Level Three coaching certificate. I combined all my knowledge and I applied that to the athletes who I train.
I have used the training programme I devised for the last eight years and I feel it suits the athletes really well. I revise the programme from time to time so that the athletes can continue their development and the results have been obvious.
Q: Is there a specific or special element in your training programmes?
A: I think the only special thing about the training is the discipline of the athletes in always wanting to improve.
They listen to advice and I mostly stress on the spiritual side of things, telling them not to miss a prayer and that when they go anywhere to behave well. The training, otherwise, is normal.
Q: Is that why Khairul Hafiz always sports a smile?
A: Yes, he is a happy-go-lucky type of person. He is close to his parents, always keeping in touch. I think that is one reason behind his early success.
Q: Have you ever doubted that you would achieve success with your athletes?
A: There are always doubts especially when you see athletes become obsessed with technology like mobile phones. When they start to lose focus in training that is the sign that the athlete will not achieve success.
One of my athletes sometimes struggled to adapt to the training environment but he has been able to focus in training and so all is well. Sometimes it can also happen during competitions when they are unsettled by the conditions.
Q: What is your plan for Badrul after mainly using him in the 400m and the 4x100m relays this year?
A: For the Sea Games, I wanted him to just focus on the relay because we have hope of doing well in this event. In the 400m, there are many runners better than him, so I thought he should focus on the relays for now.
After the Sea Games, he will probably return to the 100m and I will assess his progress then and decide if he should also continue with the 400m.
Q: What is your hope for your athletes at the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games next month?
A: My hope is for them to perform their best. Running on home soil, I’m sure they will be extra motivated. I am confident they will do well because even at the Malaysia Games in Kuching last year, they seemed to thrive on local support. I hope they can do it at the Sea Games as well.
Q: How do you manage expectations of a nation after Khairul broke the national 200m record?
A: Before any race, I tell the athletes to imagine that they are in a training session where we are to test the timing of the run. Just to follow what I say and focus on the lane. It is the same as what I tell them during training.
In the weeks after the Malaysian Open, the focus has been on training so that they don’t have to think about the pressure.
When Khairul first broke the 100m record at the Malaysia Games last year, I noticed a change in him with so many media requests for interviews while others make all kinds of comments. So I don’t want a repeat of that. In any case, I think he is now more experienced in handling the situation.
Q: How far do you think Khairul can go in his career as an athlete?
A: He is only 19 years old and I believe he still has a long way to go in athletics. I’m confident he can be a bigger success and our target is for him to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on merit.
For now, I don’t want to push him too hard since he is still young and I think he has seven or eight years of good running ahead of him. Should he win at the Sea Games, I hope it paves the way for him to train overseas with world-class athletes so he can continue to progress.
Q: When Khairul was disqualified from the 100m final at the Asian Championships in India, how did he react to it?
A: He was very disappointed, for the whole night he could not get over it. But it served as a good lesson and made him even more motivated which led to him breaking the 200m national record. At the Sea Games, I think he might even break the 100m record again.
Q: Do you have a specific target for the Sea Games?
A: I don’t put any medal targets, just for the athletes to do their best and if possible run a personal best.