KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 ― Rabuan Pit, the youngest in a rubber tapper’s family of eight, was determined to prove anyone can achieve their dreams.
The sprinter turns 59 on April 26 and is best remembered as “Asia’s Fastest Man” after his 100m victory at the 1982 Asian Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
He was the second Malaysian to win the title after Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegathesan at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1966. Jega had also won the 200m and 4x400m relay gold medals in Bangkok, four years after winning the 200m as an 18-year-old.
Rabuan won gold in a photo-finish after clocking 10.68s with South Korea’s Chang Jae-keun second (10.72s) and Thailand’s Suchart Chairsuvparb third (10.76s).
It was Malaysia's only gold of the Games.
Chang got his revenge to win the 200m in 20.89s with Japan’s Toshio Toyota second (21.13s) and Rabuan third (21.25s).
Seven years prior to his Asian Games highlight, Rabuan joined the Police Training Centre before being attached to B Company, 6th Battalion, Police Field Force. He also served with the Federal Reserve Unit.
He is now a Superintendent and Chief Officer of management of the Malacca Police contingent with retirement just a year away.
Recalling the 1982 race, Rabuan said: “It was tense as it was my debut. I was also carrying an Achilles tendon injury suffered in training.
“The night before manager Darshan Singh, chief coach Nashtar Singh and Jegathesan himself, who was the team doctor, urged me to win Malaysia’s first medal.
“I told Jega I was injured but he said he will take care of that. He just wanted me to run the race of my life.
“Coming from the man who had won the race himself really inspired and motivated me. He treated me the whole night.
“On race day the pressure was tremendous. The field was strong and the atmosphere electrifying, I told myself I could at least win the bronze.”
Rabuan had fellow Malaysian Ellron Angin from Sabah for company in the final.
“Ellron had a false start and tension built further. I told him to take it easy because a second fault start would result in him being disqualified. I shook his hand and told him we will give our best,” said Rabuan.
“At the restart, I took off smoothly and sailed ahead. I did not look back. As I was reaching the finish line I could feel someone beside me. I just dashed ahead.
“It was a close finish and I realised Chang was neck-and-neck with me and Suchart was also there.
“I did not know if I had won but was immediately taken for a doping test. It was only when I came out of the doping centre that I heard the result.
“I just went down on my knees and tears flowed. I thanked God and all those responsible for making it happen. It took some time to sink in.”
When he returned to the camp he had tonnes of messages including from the then-Agong Sultan Ahmad Shah and the late Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie who was president of the athletics association.
“It was a fantastic feeling. A kampung boy from Merlimau had become the Fastest Man in Asia.”
Rabuan underwent an operation for his injury upon his return from New Delhi. He was out for three months.
His achievement earned him the 1982 Sportsman of the Year award. It was the second time he won the award. In 1980 he was honoured for being the national champion in the 100m, 200m and 400m as well as winning the 200m and 400m at the Suharto Cup.
In 1983, Rabuan was selected to compete in the inaugural IAAF World championship in Helsinki where he had the opportunity to race against the legendary Carl Lewis.
Two years later, after helping Malaysia win three silver medals at the Bangkok SEA Games in the 200m, 4x100m and 4x400m, Rabuan quit as he couldn't get over a heel injury.
It was his third SEA Games having made his debut in Jakarta in 1979 where he won gold in the 100m and 200m and silver in the 4x400m.
His was a short career from 1979 to 1985 but he made an everlasting impact.
His only regret was not competing in the Olympics.
“I had qualified for the Moscow Olympics, but missed it because of the boycott. It is sad that I missed the Olympics, but my achievement at the Delhi Asian Games makes up for it,” said Rabuan who was inducted to the Olympic Council of Malaysia Hall of Fame in 2004.
“I had a dream from young to prove there is a chance for everybody to make good if they had passion, determination and discipline,” said Rabuan.
“I worked hard and have to thank many people along the way who made my dream possible and God for giving me the opportunity.
“These include coaches like Sgt Maj Abu Bakar Din, Nashtar,
C. Ramanathan, Leslie Armstrong, K. Jeyabalan and Samsuddin Jaafar to name a few.
“I also have to thank the Police Force and people like Datuk Osman Salleh and Tun Haniff Omar for allowing me to pursue my athletics career.
“I am just sad Malaysia has not won an Asian gold in the 100m since 1982.”
Asked why he had not gone back to athletics to coach or be an administrator, he replied: “I wanted to do equally well in my job.
“I regularly give motivation talks to schools, visit athletes in training, attend school meets and am also involved in Yakeb (National Athletes Welfare Foundation).”
Rabuan said he may be more active when he retires next year.
Rabuan has four daughters who are all married. He may not have the title Datuk but he is an original “datuk” as he has four grandchildren.