He represented Malaysia as a 800m runner at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne before coming to Singapore to work as a Prisons officer.
But M Harichandra never left his love to run. He took a group of young athletes under his wing and turned them into track stars including Serjit Singh, whose 46-year-old long standing 1500m boys record was rewritten only in 2016.
Harichandra, who was popularly known by track and field athletes as Hari, finished his own race on 29 June, 2022. He was 92.
Track and field was in his blood
Born in Port Dickson, Malaysia in 1930, Mr Harichandra once told the media he was born into a family of runners. He owed his love for athletics to his late father M Vasagam, a 1920s athletic champion in Malaysia and who founded the Malaysian athletics and Olympic associations in 1955.
His younger brother M Jegathesan won the 100m and 200m gold at the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games and was named the fastest man in Asia.
Mr Harichandra was working and preparing to compete at the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo but he pulled muscle during training and he finally stopped participating in international games in 1959.
In 2019 – 63 years after his performance at the 1956 Olympics – that the Malaysia Olympians Association (MOA) finally recognised Mr Harichandra for his services at the Games.
From athlete to maker of track stars
Mr Harichandra’s big break as coach came when he was selected as the national coach for the 1973 SEAP Games in Singapore. He took several under his wing to train on the track and they include Serjit Singh, Quah Kim Tiong, SP Kannu and Tan Kim Seng.
In a YouTube clip titled C Kunalan: Grateful to my coaches, the retired sprinter and Olympian said, “When we were preparing for the games in 1973, he was in charge of the 400m and 800m runners. We were at the track at 6am and he would be there before us.”
Mr Kunalan also remembered Mr Harichandra as having brought in Singapore’s top 800m runner Serjit Singh then. “He would let him stay at his house so that he could look after him and ensure his top performance,” he added.
For his work with athletes, Mr Harichandra was given the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 by the Singapore AthleticAssociation (SAA) for his invaluable contribution to track and field in Singapore and Asia.
Competing as a mature athlete
Mr Harichandra never retired from competition. He became the first Singaporean to run in the first edition of the World Masters Athletic Championship in Toronto, Canada in 1975. He ran the 400m race and won a silver medal.
With this victory, he wanted to create a platform for senior athletes to keep fit and continue running. His dream was realised with the formation of Singapore Masters Athletics Association (SAVA) in 1978 and said it was probably his greatest achievement in his sporting life as it was certainly not an easy task to overcome all the challenges and set up an association.
Speaking to TheHomeGround Asia, President of Singapore Masters Track and Field Association (SMTFA) Jason Wong says, “We are grateful to Harichandra for linking masters athletics in Singapore with the World and Asian Masters athletics community.”
In a post on her Facebook account, daughter Anita Thomas writes, “He lived life to the fullest on his terms, unapologetically so. He taught us about the world, took us on adventures and introduced us to different cultures. He always taught us to meet people ‘where they are’. … He didn’t care to impress anyone, he just did. As accomplished as he was, he remained humble about his achievements and committed to serving and helping others.”
Mr Harichandra leaves behind his wife, son, daughter, their spouses and three grandchildren.