RATHER surprising for a former national boxing coach… he never held boxing gloves during his teenage or army days… Not as a competitive boxer, but he later proved his fighting mettle simply by reading and watching and developing the younger generation.
This is the amazing tribute to Thangavalu “Golden Arrow” Balasundram, who passed on Thursday. He literally rose as a nobody but was hailed over how he mentored hundreds of younger boxers, who adored the way he coached the elementaries of the martial art. He was 66 years.
“He fought it out until the very end, true to his reputation as a fighter who coached so many youngsters to reach the top in their sporting trade,” says his daughter Druga Devi, 43, as her father was “very proud of his achievements as he coached Singapore’s team at the Youth Olympic Games in 2010”.
He died in his Yishun home with his wife Vasantha and daughters Durga Devi and Gaiyathri by his side. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer about 30 months ago and then brain cancer last year.
“We will miss him. He was a classic role model for the family and always encouraging everyone to give off their best and to his trainees, he was cheering up people around him. As a family, we are very proud of the legacy he has left behind for the sport in Singapore,” she adds.
Durga Devi says: “We knew his time was up just looking at his weary eyes, this week, with the message that he was going peacefully. He gave his best shot in whatever he undertook, and that will be one of his boxing and family hallmarks.”
The Singapore Amateur Boxing Association (Saba), where Balasundram served as Vice-President till he stepped down in 2020, paid tribute on social media: “One of our long-time boxing coach father figure has just passed away.”
True to his nickname, “Golden Arrow”, which is a Tamil translation from his father’s name Thangavalu, he persisted in offering the best advice as a boxing coach, and he was a regular face at the Farrer Park boxing gymnasium, once the home of Singapore boxing.
I remember him in the late 1990s as a sports journalist, always a humble character and patiently mentoring the younger generation. He never sought personal glory, but patiently tutored his subordinates. One who rose up the ranks was flyweight Hanurdeen Hamid, who clinched bronze medals at the 2017 and 2019 SEA Games.
Hanurdeen, 28, took up the sport when he was 13, says to The Straits Times: “He was a father figure to those he trained. I could always go and speak to him about anything that was going on in my personal life. He would tell me not to worry and he would always make me feel like I could overcome anything in and out of the ring.”
Former Olympic Games boxer and President of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association (Saba) Syed Abdul Kadir, 74, acknowledged that Balasundram was a “rare breed of coaches who learnt his skills from textbooks and by watching the regional best boxers”. He added: “He was quiet-spoken and offered his advice at the right time and place, few would have thrived in his shoes and I believe the nickname “Golden Arrow” befitted him.”
“How shall I personally describe him? He has mentored and trained many young boxers and it is a great loss for Singapore boxing. I must admit he was a really funny guy and really cared about the boxers under his charge.”
I personally recollect Balasundram telling me when asked how he learned about the boxing trade crafts, he replied honestly: “I read books, Suresh, I read a lot of boxing books and also watched the top boxers around the world.” Going by the book, his voracious reading habit was essential to launching his history-making sporting career.
Balasundram’s body will be cremated at the Mandai Crematorium on Friday evening.
He will be missed very much by family and friends and more importantly, remembered for upgrading his fighting mettle simply by reading and watching and developing the younger generation.
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