History Sports

86-year-old Sabahan tells us his experience competing in the 1956 Olympics

A few weeks ago, we wrote an article on two Sabahan athletes who made it to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, back when Sabah was its own country. We also mentioned in that article that we couldn’t find much information on one of the two athletes, Datuk Sium bin Diau, except that he was born in North Borneo (now Sabah) and was an Olympian.

One of his granddaughters came across that article and reached out to us. So, we took the opportunity to arrange a Zoom interview with the man himself, Datuk Sium. We were also joined by his 2 daughters and 1 granddaughter because this writer cannot understand Sabahan Malay well enough *laughs in Bahasa Semenanjung*.

Top Row (Left to Right): Anidah Sium (daughter), Datuk Sium bin Diau, Fazar Safree (granddaughter) Bottom Row (Left to Right): Zhi Zhi (the writer), Noraidah Sium (daughter)

In that interview, we asked Datuk Sium about his early days in sports and apparently…

 

He ‘DIY’ his own training space.

Datuk Sium in his younger days. Photo taken from the Amateur Athletic Association of North Borneo, Second Annual Handbook 1957.

Datuk Sium was born on 13 October 1935 in Kota Belud, Sabah. He started getting involved in sports because of a guy named Encik Haji Shafi. Shafi was a dresser at a hospital (just in case you’re wondering what a dresser is, a dresser is an assistant in a hospital) and according to Datuk Sium, Shafi liked to bring him to play sports ‘tiap-tiap petang’. Shafi was also the person that taught him how to do the triple jump too.

Kota Belud was a small kampung so Datuk Sium didn’t have access to proper training facilities. He mostly trained on his own on ‘padang or anywhere else’. Alongside the triple jump, Datuk Sium was also relatively active in football. However, as you can probably already guess, he was more pro at the triple jump.

“Dulunya, saya berlatih di padang atau mana-mana saje.” – Datuk Sium to Cilisos

Datuk Sium participated in many tournaments at Kota Kinabalu representing Kota Belud. He also met his fellow Olympics partner, Datuk Gabuh Piging, at these tournaments. The two of them always scored a place on the podium, but it was usually Gabuh on the highest one and Datuk Sium on the slightly lower (but still equally impressive) one.

Because of his active participation and achievements in all these tournaments…

 

He was invited to attend the Olympic qualifying round.

Datuk Sium attended the qualifying round two times before finally reaching the target to represent North Borneo at the Olympics – the target distance was 48.7 feet (agak-agak 14.8m) but he leapt a distance of 49 feet (around 14.9m).

Datuk Sium with the North Borneo Olympic team in 1956. Photo taken from SEJARAH NORTH BORNEO/SABAH.

At the Olympics, Datuk Sium was ranked 28th with a distance of 14.09m. When asked about his experience at the Olympics, Datuk Sium said he didn’t find the experience to be intensely mind-blowing since he wasn’t able to have much interaction with other athletes because of communication barriers.

We also found out that Datuk Sium and Datuk Gabuh didn’t get any money incentives from representing North Borneo at the Olympics. However, at least their trip to Melbourne was all paid for by the North Borneo government though.

“Mereka [North Borneo government] belanja makan je, asalkan senang hati.” – Datuk Sium. 

After the Olympics…

 

Datuk Sium returned to his normal life, but not as an athlete.

Although athleticism is now considered a full-time profession, it wasn’t like that back then. Datuk Sium was already a primary school teacher before he competed in the Olympics, and his friendly rival Datuk Gabuh was a policeman who was also in a band (imagine how cool it would be to tell someone your part-time job is a freaking Olympian!).

Datuk Sium and Datuk Gabuh also weren’t superstars unlike Lee Chong Wei and Pandelela Rinong. In fact, they were just regular people unlike the Olympians nowadays who have the help of social media to boost their fame and reputation. It’s definitely not wrong then to say that they weren’t spoiled as athletes back then *AHEM*.

If you know, you know. Gif taken from Giphy.

Unlike Datuk Gabuh who still continued his sports career after the Olympics, Datuk Sium stopped doing the triple jump because he realised his performance level was declining as he got older. He went back to being a primary school teacher. However, this doesn’t mean he completely retired from sports. He became more active in football, but just as a leisure sport, not as a competitive player.

You might be wondering why he didn’t become a coach with his impressive experience in sports. Well, according to Datuk Sium, there wasn’t such opportunities for him back then, especially since they didn’t even proper training facilities.

 

His achievement was (slowly) eventually recognised.

Datuk Sium’s status as an Olympian was surprisingly not something he and his family brought up all the time as a flex – only his closest family and friends knew this. His daughter told us that it is only recently that more people are becoming aware of this fact because of media attention and especially after his photo was displayed by the Sabah government in a local sports gallery.

In 2008, Datuk Sium was awarded his well-deserved Datukship. He was also later on given Anugerah Sukan and Tokoh Sukan by the Sabah government.

Clapping Applause GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Datuk Sium’s sports career, though short-lived, is impressive nonetheless especially bearing in mind the fact that he was almost completely self-taught.

He retired from playing sports completely in 1994 and he’s now living a blissful retired life in Kampung Likas, Kota Kinabalu.

NAH, BACA:
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