An unforgettable battle

An unforgettable battle
DECORATED SEA GAMES CHAMPION: Sheik Alau’ddin showing off his SEA Games medals. The one slung around his neck is his most cherished, the 1993 gold he won on home soil.

It is the most cherished of Sheik Alau'ddin's four South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold medals.

He also owns two world titles, but that win on home soil in 1993 stands out for the silat icon, perhaps because the journey to glory was hardly a straightforward one.

He was one of three Singapore SEA Games stars selected to sit down with The New Paper for a Chinese New Year series talking about their exploits and, just like football hero Quah Kim Lye and sprinter U K Shyam, Sheik's tale was a compelling one.

The 47-year-old took TNP back 22 years and said with a smile: "I remember everything so well. Just 10 days before the silat event was scheduled to start, I injured myself very badly.

"I was then working (as a fitness co-ordinator) at the HDB (Housing and Development Board) and I was one of their torchbearers as the country built up to the Games.

"As luck would have it, during my run, I rolled over my ankle and it became badly swollen."

Sheik chuckled, recalling how his coaches tried everything to make sure he was ready to defend the gold he'd won in 1991 in Manila.

One sworn by a traditional massage, aggressively kneaded his injured ankle.

Another insisted the best way was a "modern" approach - and proceeded to give his ankle several jolts of low-voltage electricity.


Even his mother-in-law got involved in the rehabilitation process.

"She put crushed serai (lemongrass) on my ankle, because people in the olden days believed that was the best way to reduce swelling," he said.

"I remember marching into the National Stadium with Team Singapore during the opening ceremony, I had the crushed lemongrass strapped to my right ankle.

"I was trying to hide my injury, so I made sure my limp wasn't too obvious.

"But the pain wasn't the most irritating thing, it was the dampness from the crushed lemongrass that bothered me most!"

Many will call it kooky, but the remedy appeared to work.

Then weighing around 90kg, Sheik took part in the Open category, which allows any silat exponent over 65kg to compete.

His first match was against a Thai fighter who was 20kg lighter than him and, although he saw off the challenge without much fuss, he realised the next day that he had endured a fair amount of damage.

"During the match, he kept kicking my thigh, but I won thanks to my size, because I was able to throw him many times," said Sheik.

"But the next day when I woke up, I felt as if I could not walk. When I looked at my thigh, I was shocked to see a few red (welts) down the side. It was as though I had been caned!"

The scars soon went away and Sheik met a familiar rival in the semi-final, Malaysia's Azam Mokhtar.

"This Malaysian guy was funny," said Sheik.

"He faced me many times before and never managed to beat me, so I had the psychological advantage.

"And in the first and second round, I walloped him good. Then, before the third round, we shook hands and he told me: 'Eh, you won already. Don't hit so hard'.

"So I went a bit easier on him, but he started whacking me and I soon realised he was trying to make me complacent, and I managed to recover.

"I met him last month at the World Championships in Phuket as he was the coach of the Malaysian team and we had a good laugh over the incident."

Into the final, the only thing that stood between Sheik and the cherished gold was Indonesia's Iwayan Wirawan.

But, it wasn't the opponent that had Sheik a bit twitchy.

"There was quite a bit of pressure on me, because my final was one of the last events of the Games," he said.

"Before my final, the Singapore Sports Council (now Sport Singapore) people told me I had to win because they had planned to make me the flagbearer for the closing ceremony.

"Even Fandi Ahmad told me he was waiting for my gold medal to wrap up Team Singapore's total. So I was really fired up to win." He didn't have much trouble defeating Iwayan and Sheik's feat helped Singapore hit the 50-gold mark, better their previous best of 45 when the country first hosted the Games in 1973.

The feat cemented his status as one of Singapore's sports stars, in an era where top sportsmen were stopped on the streets for autographs.

Football had Fandi. Swimming had Ang Peng Siong and Joscelin Yeo. Silat had Sheik.

Said Sheik: "It was a great feeling then.

"Not many people know this, but the camaraderie we had was great.

"When we went overseas for multi-sport tournaments, we always supported one another in every way we could.

"I remember the whole silat squad went down to support table tennis player Jing Junhong in her final at the 1995 SEA Games.

"So when athletes from that era meet these days, it's always nice to talk about the good old days.

"And that's what I hope our athletes today will enjoy about June's SEA Games, too."


  • 1989: Silver
  • 1991: Gold
  • 1993: Gold 
  • 1995: Gold
  • 1997: Silver
  • 1999: Gold

This article was first published on Feb 22, 2015.
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