KARATE exponent R. Puvaneswaran’s face lights up when the conversation revolves around the National Sports Institute (NSI).
The NSI, located in Bukit Jalil, is the place all local athletes head to for treatment when they have an injury.
Without NSI’s care and treatment, Puvaneswaran feels he would not have brought back an Asian Games gold medal from Guangzhou in 2010.
It was his second Asian Games gold medal after bagging the first in Busan eight years earlier. Puvaneswaran, 38, who now serves as a coach, explains why national athletes should make use of the facilities available at the NSI.
“It was in June that year when I went for an Achilles heel surgery. The doctor told me that I would be out of action for three months but I managed to return to training after just one month, thanks to the NSI.
“By coming in to the NSI early, I was able to put myself back in the right frame to go for the Asian Games and do my best as that was the most important assignment for us that year.
“I wanted to retire from the sport on a high and I was happy I could do it. I would not have been able to do this without NSI's help in terms of their sports science knowledge. It was not just for the fact that I was mentally tough but NSI also provided the right rehabilitation programme to suit my age.
“They actually don't just provide treatment for injuries; they also cater to preparations and getting athletes to peak at certain competitions.
“The biomechanics department corrects our mistakes and improves our skill movements,” says Puvaneswaran, who urges aspiring national athletes to embrace sports science.
“Not everyone can be absorbed into the national elite squad and maintain their place.
“It involves intensive training and you need to recover well. Sometimes you get yourself injured in the process if you don’t do it properly and this is where the NSI experts come in.”
He feels there is no reason for athletes not to seek NSI's assistance, unless they are not aware of the facilities or they choose to be ignorant.
“Training and rest are not enough unless done with the right methodology,” says Puvaneswaran, who is the first Malaysian karate exponent to win gold at the World Cup.
Also full of praise and appreciative of the NSI is 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist and track cyclist Josiah Ng.
He is part of the elite squad of cyclists who have been based in Melbourne for the past six years, ever since track cycling was first identified as one of the targeted sports under the Olympics programme.
Much to the team's relief, the NSI have been sending support personnel there to help out with the cyclists' daily training and preparations for competitions.
“NSI have been helping us out quite a bit. We have a full-time NSI staff member who is based with us in Melbourne. The data that she collects has really useful,” says Josiah.
London Olympic bronze medallist platform diver Pandelela Rinong also recalls how NSI helped her cope with training and competitions.
“I have had to cope with back and knee injuries for some time. NSI sent medical personnel to accompany us for major championships. For example, we had one with us for the World Championships in Barcelona in July. It is very useful having NSI personnel there. There is always a doctor on attendance at the championships but they may not be aware of the background of our medical condition,” says Pandelela, who partnered Leong Mun Yee to take a prized bronze medal in Barcelona.
While the NSI can help athletes, miracles are not the order of the day.
NSI were perhaps only right when they advised Malaysian Moto3 rider Zulfahmi Khairuddin not to get back into action too quickly last month.
Zulfahmi underwent surgery on his right wrist after crashing at the Aragon Grand Prix two weeks before the Malaysian round in Sepang on Oct 13.
The rider went to the NSI to seek medical advice and their chief executive officer Datuk Dr Ramlan Abdul Aziz had said that he should focus on the recovery rather than meeting the deadline to compete in the home GP.
“He underwent surgery on Tuesday and he’s hoping for recovery by next weekend. Do you think that’s a reasonable expectation?
“I wouldn’t put it as a reasonable expectation.
“From the medical point of view, the NSI would prefer to see the athlete fully recovered before continuing competing as he may be adversely affected if the injuries are not fully healed.
“But, being a young athlete, it is only normal for him to hope to heal quicker,” said Ramlan at that time.
Zulfahmi was eager to race in Sepang but was forced to withdraw on the morning of the race after the internal fixations on his wrist gave way.
Room for improvement
The NSI are aware that there is always room for improvement, especially in a field where the technology is rapidly changing.
The good thing is that the NSI is also eager to learn and improve.
Last month, the NSI sent six therapists and sports science experts to the Malaysian GP, mainly to provide a comprehensive treatment for Zulfahmi and the other wildcard riders.
“They also wanted to conduct research to understand the nature of motorsports, injuries related to motorsports and treatment for such injuries.
“They fully understand now and ensure that a better programme will be in place if any of our national MotoGP riders face the same situation in the future,” said Datuk Razlan Ahmad Razali, Sepang International Circuit (SIC) chief executive officer, last month.
As more and more athletes go to the NSI for help with injuries and fitness, understandably having a sufficient number of qualified experts will be an issue.
The shortage of medically-qualified staff in the past meant that masseurs and physiologists were sent to assist national athletes for overseas competitions instead of medical officers and dieticians.
Wushu exponent Ng Say Yoke went through some nervous moments last year after picking up an ankle injury which forced him to lay off training for a year.
“My ankle did not heal sufficiently as it was not properly treated and I had to go for longer rehab. Maybe there were not enough qualified doctors to accompany us for major tournaments but I am thankful the injury was addressed before it became serious,” says Say Yoke, who took the silver in men’s changquan at the recent World Wushu Championships in Kuala Lumpur.
It is also important for athletes to be mindful of the NSI's role.
Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaludin hit the nail on the head when he urged athletes not to view the NSI as a clinic but as a comprehensive physical and mental preparation centre.
But to be able to serve efficiently, NSI also need to upgrade the training for their sports science practitioners as well as the facilities as the field evolves.
Currently, NSI has an annual allocation of RM30mil and that does not include the RM17mil set aside for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro programme over four years. Whether that is enough remains to be seen.
Ultimately, the objective of the NSI is to help our athletes achieve glory for the country, and that can only happen if we are able to give them the best treatment and sports science guidance.
The NSI is very much aware of that.
In a recent interview with StarSport, Dr Ramlan aptly summed up NSI's role: “We want to get the best Malaysian experts to do the work – or else we will look outside.
“Our aim is straightforward – we need a better culture. By that, I mean having the best people working in the best working environment and executing the plans in the best possible way.”
NSI expertise areas:
- Exercise Physiology
- Games Analysis
- Sports Medicine
- Sports Technology
- Talent Identification Development