S’pore’s Queen of Sprint Mary Beatrice Klass had to finish her housework before she could train

She was also Singapore's second female Olympian.

By Joshua Lee | August 9, 2017

The name Mary Beatrice Klass may not ring a bell right now, but she was crowned one of the two fastest women in Asia in 1954.

Via Facebook.

At the Asian Games in Manila that year, the 19-year-old Klass tied with Japanese sprinter Atsuko Nambu at 12.5 seconds. Unfortunately, without the sports timing technology of today, the officials had to decide who to give the gold medal to, and they ultimately gave it to Nambu.

Klass’ story was told through a short clip from When The Stars Align, directed and produced by Brenda Er for Honour Singapore.

She was inspired by Tang Pui Wah, Singapore’s first female Olympian hurdler who represented Singapore at the 1952 Summer Olympics. Klass read about her in the papers.

“I said, ‘If they can do it, why not me? Maybe I can do better'” Klass laughed. “That was my thinking.”

Klass’ father was against her taking part in sports, and instead demanded that she stayed home to do the housework. But that did not faze Klass.

“I was so determined. At four o’clock I would do all the housework, cook the rice and everything. Before five I would go running at [Raffles Institution].”

It was evident that Klass had a talent from the beginning. At the 1953 Coronation Meet organised by the Eurasian Clubs, she beat sprint stars Eleanor Clunies-Ross and Joyce Deans to emerge victorious.

Klass with other Singapore sprinters such as Eleanor Clunies-Ross, Gloria Beck, and Janet Jesudason. Image via Facebook.

“What’s the use of all these rubbish?”

Unfortunately, Klass’ father was upset with her win, calling it “rubbish”.

In the video, she brushed it of, saying that her father’s response was understandable, as those were hard times and training to be a sprinter required time and money which could have been put to better use for the family.

That did not stop her.

“I wanted to train and prove myself, to be who I wanted to be.”

From 1955 to 1957, Klass continued to break records and retained her champion title in Malayan competitions.

Via Facebook.

Klass went on to become Singapore’s second female Olympian. She represented the country in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.

Unfortunately, while Klass bettered her own timing in the heats, she did not make it to the semi-finals.

The joy of sportsmanship

“At that time there was real sportsmanship,” Klass said. “Win or lose, athletes had that joy in them.”

And this “joy” was evident in the way Klass interacted with her “rival” Tang Pui Wah, Singapore’s first female Olympian.

It’s hard not to notice both women’s competitive yet friendly rivalry.

Klass and Tang. Image via Facebook.
Tang and Klass today. Image via Facebook.

“That year when I beat [Tang, champion of the 220-yard], she never wanted to run again!” laughed Klass.

“It’s ok, let her beat me,” smiled Tang. “But if I had the chance to reach my full potential, the results would have been indescribable.”

Watch Er’s short clip from When The Stars Align below:

Read our previous article on Tang Pui Wah, Singapore’s first female Olympian here:

S’pore’s first female Olympian, Tang Pui Wah: “In life, you conquer one hurdle after another.”

Top image via Facebook

1819 is a labour of love by Mothership.sg where we tell stories from Singapore’s history, heritage & culture. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

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