It was an unusual 10,000m race at the Perak All Comers athletics meet on Sunday afternoon.
Of the seven competitors, three did not finish the run, including one who collapsed in the scorching heat. Three others were no-shows, resulting in only Hazman Akmal Mohd Zalghani from UTP Athletics Club crossing the finish line.
An exhausted M. Ragu, representing Johor Baru’s Team Treximo, collapsed in the final lap of the 3.10pm race at Perak Stadium.
St John’s Ambulance volunteers rushed to his aid while a Perak Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) official called an ambulance to rush Ragu to the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital.
It remains unclear if the two others who did not finish the race – Chin Hong Zhang (UPSI Fox Athletics) and Muhammad Shahmi Suhardi (Universiti Putra Malaysia) – were also victims of the blazing sun. The same goes for the no-shows – Sayzwan Shah Jahan, Christopher Soosai (Maple Athletics Penang) and Muhammad Syahmi Suhardi (FTKLAA/Wipers). It is not known why they did not turn up.
Ipoh recorded a maximum temperature of 35 degrees Celsius that day. Health authorities had previously issued reminders on the heat wave that is expected to last until April.
The organiser of the athletics meet, meanwhile, felt the heat in another way with a WhatsApp message accompanied by pictures of the incident making its rounds, including among officials.
Competition chairman K. Nathan said he was aware of this but clarified that Ragu had been conscious throughout the incident.
“Perhaps those at the stands did not get a clear view of what was going on but our officials were there and the St John’s Ambulance volunteers rushed to Ragu when he collapsed,” explained Nathan.
“Ragu told the officials and volunteers that he just wanted to lie down for a while. Later, one of my officials even helped him on his feet as reflected in one of the pictures that were sent out.”
Nathan said he contacted Ragu after the incident and the runner had returned to Johor on Sunday night. Ragu has also “thanked” Nathan for the “nice run” and said “see you next year”.
Regarding the other participants who did not finish the race or were no-shows, Nathan said “it is not the prerogative of the organisers to find out the reasons the runners did not start or finish.”
Nathan insisted there had not been any request to reschedule the 10,000m race.
“In fact, the team managers had requested that the 5,000m race be rescheduled and we accommodated by holding it earlier in the day.”
While stressing that the schedule was drawn months in advance and agreed to by participating team officials, Nathan said the organiser remained mindful of weather conditions.
“We, however, only had until 5pm on Saturday as the stadium hosted the Perak-Felda United Super League match at night. Initially, we wanted to organise some of the events at night.
“We will discuss this and moving forward, find a solution. We want to host as many events as possible while being mindful of the athletes’ welfare,” he added.
“We can’t predict the weather. Also, our officials and even the athletes can’t be staying back for longer periods. There are a lot of factors to look into and we will study each and every one of them.”
Johor AAA honorary secretary V. Mathivanan, who was initially unaware of the incident, confirmed Ragu participated on his own.
“In such cases, it is the organiser who will provide assistance to the runner,” he added.
It is understood that Perak AAA will also conduct a post-mortem into the incident and may even consider stretching the two-day meet pending feedback from other stakeholders and their officials.
Malaysian Athletics Federation president Datuk Karim Ibrahim declined comment, adding the matter was best left to the technical officials in charge of the meet.