Mailers, the rare breed

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THINKING out of the box and going the extra mile for stories that touch the heart had always been Malay Mail reporters’ niche.

Being an afternoon tabloid for much of its existence, national athletes were accustomed to late night and early morning calls from Mailers.

Former international shuttler Rashid Sidek was one of those athletes.

Memories of ex-Mailsport writer Chan Wai Kong hunting him for stories are still fresh in his mind.

“He interviewed me during the peak of my career. I’m quite reserved but him being a jovial person, it was easier to talk to Wai Kong,” recalled Rashid.

“I did get some late calls but reporters were also quite respectful and understood rest was important for athletes. They never disturbed us unnecessarily.”

Rashid was the much-talked about player during Malaysia’s scintillating 1992 Thomas Cup triumph after a 25-year lapse.

First singles Rashid remained unbeaten throughout the tournament.

His fiery form ensured Malaysia turned the tables on favourites China (3-2) with a semifinal win over the legendary Zhao Jianhua.

He carried that into the final, where archrival Ardy Wiranata was overcome in another 3-2 triumph over Indonesia.

Wai Kong, now the New Straits Times sports editor, said Rashid’s shy nature meant it was a toil to get a story out of him — similar to how he forced rivals to submission at Stadium Negara.

“Rashid never spoke much. He answered everything on court,” remembers Wai Kong.

Story about a developing relationship with Ella also broke as the rock diva turned up to watch Rashid in the semis.

Picture of the pair after his win over Jianhua in following day’s Malay Mail was accompanied by the caption that ended with “Romance in the air?”

“Stories were circulating they were romantically involved. It was during the Thomas Cup but Rashid denied this, saying it was just friendship,” added Wai Kong with a tinge of disappointment.

Rashid still maintains they were only good friends.

“Thomas Cup was the first time I met her,” said Rashid.

“We were good friends, kept it professional — nothing beyond that.

“We went out for dinners but never just the two of us.”

Wai Kong also witnessed Rashid winning his second Commonwealth Games gold in 1994.

A horrific car accident during that edition in Victoria, Canada almost took the writer’s life.

He was in coma for four days in a Vancouver hospital but eventually recovered and returned to write great stories again almost a year later.

“It was a miracle Wai Kong came back,” added Rashid.

“The other Mailer who regularly wrote about me was (former senior reporter) Rizal Hashim.

“After I turned to coaching in 2003, it was (former Executive Editor) Haresh Deol.

Malay Mail is a legendary paper. Its coverage when I was playing will stay with me.”