From plate of noodles as prize, rusty bike, to cycling greatness

Ng Joo Ngan and Daud Ibrahim fired cycling into the mainframe of Malaysian sport. (Code Computer Design pic)

PETALING JAYA: Cycling icons Ng Joo Ngan and Daud Ibrahim were two hapless kids before they helped pioneer the pedalling revolution in Malaysia.

As a 10-year-old, Joo Ngan raced his older brother on the streets in Kuala Lumpur with a bicycle from the scrapyard that was made to resemble a racing

The winner would get a plate of char kuey teow (stir-fried noodles).

Joo Ngan lost the first race but in the return showdown, he beat his brother, Joo Pong, who would later represent Malaysia at the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

Around that time, a boy five months older to Joo Ngan found a rusty, broken bicycle under his house in Batu Pahat, Johor.

Daud Ibrahim re-built the bicycle and used it to cycle to school and race with friends. It was the beginning of his dream to become a champion cyclist.

When his father died, Daud, the middle child of six children, tapped rubber and did odd jobs while in school to help his poor family make ends meet.

Joo Ngan, who came from a family of 17 children, worked in a motor workshop and cycled 150km a day. A star road racer was in the horizon.

Joo Ngan in action at the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games in 1977. (Code Computer Design pic)

Both of them were born in 1947 when bicycle racing clubs like the Rough Riders were on a mission of wheels on fire.

Amid hardship, Joo Ngan and Daud lived, breathed and pushed the boundaries of their sport on their own.

They felt entitled to wheel their way to success in the adrenaline-filled life of competitive cycling and were duly voted back-to-back National Sportsman of the Year in 1970 and 1971.

Their intimate, empathetic and honest experiences are re-told tonight in the fifth episode of the television documentary We Were Champions.

Producers Gerard Benedict and Harjit Kaur connect the life and times of both men in a profound way to capture their remarkable transformation from also-rans to Asian cycling champions.

Daud Ibrahim won gold in the 1600 mass start at the 1970 Asian Games. (Code Computer Design pic)

The story of Daud, who died in 2011 aged 64, is related by his son Muhamad Firdaus, 39, a former national cyclist and the present vice-president of the Johor Cycling Federation.

Daud’s heroics have also rubbed off on three more sons, Muhamad Fuad, Muhamad Fakhruddin and Muhamad Faruq, all of whom have donned national colours.

Before Daud made his international debut at the 1969 Rangoon Sea Games, cruel fate ganged up on the Ng family.

On April 15 that year, Joo Ngan’s businessman father who was trailing him and Joo Pong in his car on their routine morning road drill died after a collision with a lorry.

Upon discovering their cycling talent, Joo Ngan’s father made him and Joo Pong ride for hours on roads such as Jalan Kuchai Lama on weekends, driving slowly behind in his car to ensure their safety.

When they won a race, he treated them to cow’s milk in Brickfields and when they lost, they endured a lonely bicycle ride back home.

The death of their father devastated the brothers. Joo Ngan recalled it took them months to get back to cycling.

In 2010, Joo Ngan was again left distraught when Daud died in a road accident after a trailer rammed into the rear of his car on the North-South highway near Rembau.

The tragedy occurred seven months after Joo Ngan had been bestowed a Datukship by the King.

Former Customs officer Daud, who was in Kuala Lumpur to offer advice to his son Fakhruddin before a major race, had also met Joo Ngan before he made his way back to Johor.

As teammates at the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games, Joo Ngan and Daud, making his first appearance at the Asiad, had to restore the confidence of the national sports officials and the press in cycling.

Joo Ngan, Daud and their co-cyclists had been labelled as impossible underdogs after the dismal performance of the national team at the Rangoon Sea Games a year earlier.

Prior to 1970, Malaysia had only won a bronze at the Asiad through Jaafar Bibon, Mohamad Jaafar and Rosli Abdul Kadir in the team road race in 1962 in Jakarta.

After his retirement from cycling, Daud Ibrahim coached elite cyclists. (Code Computer Design pic)

So, everybody was surprised when Joo Ngan won the 200km road race in Bangkok, to the extent that even race officials whisked him away immediately for a drugs test.

“I could hear people shouting, ‘No way Malaysia won, no way Joo Ngan won,” he said in reference to his shock win over the favourite, Masato Abe of Japan.

Joo Ngan said he was in disbelief as he was awarded his gold medal in front of an estimated crowd of 40,000 people, every emotion dancing in his eyes as the national anthem played.

He also took the silver in the team road race with Chow Teck Beng, Azizan Ramli and Omar Saad.

Daud, too, against all odds won gold in the 1600 mass start and a bronze in the 1km time trial, proving like Joo Ngan that amazing doesn’t come to you – you have to go to it.

These two athletes didn’t just win medals: they made history in doing so and brought cycling into the mainframe of Malaysian sport.

They went on a winning streak and in the following year, Daud won three gold and a silver in the individual and team time trials at the Kuala Lumpur Seap (now Sea) Games while Joo Ngan pedalled to victory in the Tour of Malaysia, covering more than 1,000km over eight days.

Then there was joy for Daud when he was selected for four events at the 1972 Olympics, and despair for Joo Ngan who was dropped.

Joo Ngan wondered if someone did not want him at Munich. He never became an Olympian.

In 1974, while Joo Ngan celebrated his eight years as a national cyclist with his final win in the 200km road race in Malaysia, Daud was off to the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games in New Zealand.

Daud capped his cycling career with two gold medals at the Kuala Lumpur Sea Games 1977, with one newspaper quoting him as saying, “I will miss not being on my bike.”

A 1997 picture of Joo Ngan’s daughter Siew Mei, then aged seven, helping him at his bicycle shop. (Code Computer Design pic)

After their retirement, Joo Ngan and Daud continued to contribute to elite cycling by coaching state and national teams.

Joo Ngan had served as head coach during the Hanoi Sea Games in May, where the road squad won one gold, two silver and two bronze medals.

Until today, he keeps to the same regime he has followed unfailingly for over 50 years: off to bed by 8pm, up by 5am to train his cohort of young riders and then to Joo Ngan Professional Bike Centre at Jalan Ampang.

“I think I was born to be a cyclist and it’s difficult for me to give up cycling. It’s my life, my everything,” said Joo Ngan, 75.

Firdaus said of his father: “I don’t want people to forget his contributions to cycling and I will continue to uphold his legacy, and follow in his footsteps to uncover fresh talent.”

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