Azmi Ibrahim brooding hunk

His room was on the fourth floor of the airy and lofty pitch-roofed architectural edifice they call the Bangi Sports Complex. The 11 o'clock morning sun streamed through the glass skylights and there was the dull Saturday morning sounds of basketball players padding across a parquet court and a lawn-mower whirring in the distance. I knocked on the door numbered 419 and opened it at the sound of an acknowledgement. As I walked in two young men turned towards me and I instantly looked at the taller of the two. That was actually Asbi, his "brother-in-arms." Azmi was the shorter one with the build and the striking looks. The room looked like any air-conditioned hotel room only with a spacious sunny balcony overlooking the tartan track below and the green landscaping. There was a stylish disarray of shiny lycra unitards and gym wear strewn about and Def Leppard was playing on the boom box.

I told him how our magazine would like to photograph him and suggested he wear certain colours, then I went downstairs to wait. (One waits a lot for Azmi, as I later learned). As they came down to the track I said it was a pity we had no access to a set of starting blocks, and Azmi said, no problem. He sent Asbi to the second storeroom on the fourth floor to get a set. We photographed him with and without his shiny black tank on. As he peeled off the tank top he said this might be better, "you can see the muscles like this better." I sat in the shade of the stadium chatting to Asbi until we were interrupted by Azmi asking his friend to go upstairs to get his grey tank top, "the tight one" because the stylist wanted a more streamlined silhouette. When Asbi returned I resumed asking him what it was like to be a friend of Azmi Ibrahim.

"Do you find him a proud person? Because, you know, he has an attitude on the track," I said.

"Yes, I thought he was sombong at first but once you get to know him, he treats you like a brother," Asbi replied. He added that Azmi doesn't choose his friends and has many of them. "When you hang out with him in his hometown in Pahang, he really protects you and looks after you, "he said. Asbi is, I believe, a year younger than Azmi, and a hurdler training at Bangi as well. He has a quiet manner, and seemed very sensible.

After the photo session Azmi asked us if he and his friends could get a ride with us into the city. "It's really boring here-lah, and we want to relax and have some fun in K.L.," Azmi said. So we waited for them to get ready and then we were off, with three young men squeezed in the back of the Pajero. As the top notes of what reminded me of Dior's Drakkar Noir filled the interior of the car, I teased them, or rather Azmi, if they were going to meet some girls. (The other two were content to let Azmi do all the talking, and there was no denying he was the leader.) "No, just some friends," Azmi said.

"Do you have any girlfriends?" I asked.

"Huh? Girlfriends? No, no, no, I have many friends but I am away for training so much that there is no time for girlfriends," he said.

And Azmi has certainly travelled a lot in the world in the name of athletics. He has visited Paris when he competed in France and even spent some time training in a small town in Spain. However, the food there didn't agree with him, "no rice-lah", and he found it difficult to continue his training stint there. He recalled the three months he spent on a California State University campus near Pasadena with much more fondness. His friend, Asbi had remarked earlier that before the stint in California, Azmi's build was much slighter, but his body changed a lot after he returned.

"Yes, the American style of training revolves a lot around weights. I had to go to the gym every morning!" he exclaimed. He also felt that all the bulk he built up made his body very stiff which eroded away some of the flexibility a sprinter needs to run well. "I ate a lot of steak, fish and rice. Sometimes, I even followed my coach to an American-Chinese restaurant to eat white rice!"

He said being watchful of one's diet was important for an athlete. "There is no strict regime you have to follow, but you have to be smart about what you eat. I drink a lot of water, eat lots of fruits and sayur. I avoid curries because it gives me a sore throat, and I can't digest it too well. No cakes, no ice-cream," he shook his head in mock horror.

We dropped them off outside Lot-10 for their bit of rest-and-relaxation. It was obvious that being confined to Bangi grated on Azmi's independent spirit. Without any transportation, athletes are practically prisoners there during the weekend. When we met again the next day, I asked him about this.

But not before all the frantic commotion surrounding the loss of his wallet with RM3000 cash in it. He had telephoned me at home earlier that morning to ask to be picked up early so that a friend of his could come along with us. After that phone call from a public telephone he had left his wallet on top of the box and only realised it was missing one-and-a-half hours later. I noticed Azmi was more concerned about losing his identity card than the cash. "I've lost my wallet three times already, once in China, then in Pahang where I also had my hand-phone stolen, and now," he complained. Well, at least the belief that bad luck comes in threes means the streak is over, I tried to console him. But our man of action had no ears, nor patience for such passivity. He had a plan. He had someone, a man in his thirties, to call a bomoh to put a jampi on the lost wallet to try to see where it had turned up. At the end of the call, he said, o.k., I'm ready to go. Again the interior of the car was permeated with those Drakkar Noirish notes.


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