ONE of our more promising future Olympians is 26-year-old Prem Kumar Selvam, who won the gold medal in the men’s kumite 55kg event at the 2019 SEA Games, and the bronze medal for the same event at the 2019 Asian Karate Championships held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
The third child in a middle-class family of six, Prem followed in his older brother’s footsteps when taking up karate. Neither of his parents nor his other siblings have ever taken up martial arts.
Though he stayed at home with his family during the early days of the movement control order (MCO), he returned to the Bukit Jalil National Sports Institute in June. He spent a month under quarantine before joining several other athletes in training for the Olympic Qualification Tournament, which is set to take place next June in Paris, France.
He admitted that it was tough initially to get back into full training, even though he had been working out on his own at home.
How were you introduced to karate?
“My family used to live in a tough neighbourhood with a high crime rate in Segambut. Then my father decided that we needed to learn self-defence, and that is when he sent us to learn karate.
“I was four years old when I was sent to the Hayashi Ha Ipoh Road Karate Centre.
“My older brothers also took up karate, but they are no longer competing. Karate used to be a hobby, but eventually it became my full-time pursuit.
“I learned a lot throughout my sporting career. I also have sweet memories [of competing], whether I win or lose.”
When did you start entering competitions?
“It started with small competitions within the club. I then began competing at a district level, and my first major competition was at the Malaysian Games (Sukma). From then on, I was competing at both the national and international level.”
What else are you doing besides preparing for the Olympic qualifiers?
“Right now I am fully concentrating on that only, because going to the Olympics has always been my dream. This will also be the first time that karate will be featured in the Olympics.
“If I took up something else, like teaching karate, it would be a distraction.”
How do you cope mentally with competitions?
“ The staff here help us train mentally. We must prepare ourselves, too. We put in a lot of hard work.
“It was easy winning the junior categories, but once I was in the senior category, it took me five years before I won anything. Sometimes I wanted to give up but after talking to my coach, the National Sports Institute staff and my friends, they became my backbone, telling me to stop thinking negatively.
“Winning and losing is part of any sport. The performance is the main thing.”
How do you control your weight?
“It is easy to gain weight, but muscle is hard to build. So you must control what you eat. You must be disciplined.
“We must check our food and make sure we are not dehydrated. The National Sports Institute staff helps us.
“Sometimes I have cheat days, but if my coach finds out I will get punished!”
What is the hardest part of training while following strict SOPs?
“It is hard. This is a combat sport, so there is a lot of contact and different sparring partners. But it is more important to be safe.”
What are your plans after your competition days are over?
“I plan to become a businessman, maybe have my own speedmart store in the near future.”