Mary Beatrice Klass could have won Singapore’s first women’s Asiad gold, but she lost it by… nothing. The year was 1954 and she was representing Singapore in the 100m sprint in Manila. The 19-year-old Eurasian athlete had lost to her biggest rival, a Japanese, by just 3m in the semi-finals and Klass was determined not to let it happen again. At the finals, she gave it her best and, at the finish line, came in neck and neck with Atsuko Nambu, clocking 12.5sec. They had tied. Unfortunately, there was no modern technology to determine who had breasted the tape first, so race officials awarded the gold to the Japanese runner and gave Klass the silver.
Still, Klass did not let the disappointment slow her down. A relative slow starter by her own assessment, she had discovered her own potential only in 1952. That was when she beat Tang Pui Wah — the first Singapore woman to compete in the Olympics — at the Singapore Amateur Athletics Association championship, winning the 100-yard sprint and tied for first in the 220-yard. Klass would become Malaya’s fastest woman in those two events.
After the Manila Asiad, she broke records again and again in the 100-yard and 220-yard sprints, at subsequent Amateur Athletics Association championships in 1955 and 1956, and at the Merdeka Games in 1957. Klass represented Singapore in the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956. While she did not make it beyond the heats in the 100m and 200m, she set a Malayan record in the 200m. She retired from the sport in 1957.
*Profile from Rings of Stars and Crescent – 70 Years of the Olympic Movement in Singapore by Peh Shing Huei.