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A 10-year dream: Former teammate, coach recount Loh Kean Yew’s determination to become world’s best

SINGAPORE — Watching national shuttler Loh Kean Yew at the badminton world championships over the weekend, a former teammate of the national player was in disbelief when the shuttlecock landed and confirmed the gold-medal win. 

A 10-year dream: Former teammate, coach recount Loh Kean Yew’s determination to become world’s best

Badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew kissing the Singapore flag on his attire.

  • Badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew already had his sights set on winning the championships 10 years ago
  • His former teammate at Singapore Sports School recounted how Loh stayed focused on achieving his dream
  • Loh said that he did not expect to win the world championships so soon
  • A former coach said that even during his National Service, Loh would train in his own time

SINGAPORE — Watching national shuttler Loh Kean Yew at the badminton world championships over the weekend, a former teammate of the national player was in disbelief when the shuttlecock landed and confirmed the gold-medal win. 

Mr Tan Ming Shun, 25, who was in the same programme as Loh at the Singapore Sports School and a former national shuttler, recalled how the youthful player told him 10 years ago that he wanted to achieve the feat of winning the world championships.

At that time, Loh was just 14 or 15 years old, Mr Tan told TODAY on Tuesday (Dec 21). He was Loh's senior by a year in school.

“He mentioned that he wanted to be one of the world’s top players one day and, hopefully, be able to win the Olympics and world championships as well,” Mr Tan said.

It took 10 years, but the dream became a reality on Sunday when Loh beat India’s Srikanth Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in the Badminton World Federation's World Championships men’s singles final in Huelva, Spain.

The win made Loh the first Singaporean to win the title and saw his world ranking bumped up from 22 to 15 on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters after landing at Changi Airport on Tuesday, the 24-year-old said that although it has been his goal to be the world’s best all along, he had not expected to achieve this feat so soon.

“I didn’t think about whether it was within reach. I just kept focusing on the game and how to play.”

He added that he was “quite satisfied and happy” with his achievements so far, noting that he has had a good run having beaten the top-four-ranked men’s badminton players in tournaments over the past few months.

Loh gave special thanks to his coach Kelvin Ho for his guidance in the last few years.

“Without him, I wouldn’t have won this medal for sure.”

Badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew flanked by his physiotherapist Ho Jia Ying (left) and coach Kelvin Ho.
That was something very different about him. He dared to dream at a time when the top players were Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, and (the other athletes) wondered if we would ever reach that stage.
Mr Tan Ming Shun, who was badminton world champion Loh Kean Yew's senior in the Singapore Sports School

The win heralds “a new beginning” for him, Loh added.

“I’ve been the underdog, but now I’m going to be one of those whom people want to beat very badly.”

Loh told TODAY he hopes that his win will inspire the younger generation of Singaporean badminton players, by showing them that such achievements are possible.

“But of course, it is also about their mindset, how they pursue the sport and train, and what their goals are.”

'HE DARED TO DREAM'

For Mr Tan, now an assistant coach at the Singapore Sports School, his ex-teammate’s win has been “overwhelming”. 

“That was something very different about him. He dared to dream at a time when the top players were Lin Dan (from China) and Lee Chong Wei (from Malaysia), and (the other athletes) wondered if we would ever reach that stage.

“But he stayed very focused and believed that one day he would do that.” 

Mr Tan said that Loh already had good badminton skills when he attended the Singapore Sports School’s selection trials in 2009.

“When we first saw him, we were very stunned by his skills… his racket skills, his whole movement on the court was just very different, his skill level was already very good,” he recalled. 

Singapore Sports School alumni Loh Kean Yew (left) and Tan Ming Shun (right) in a photo taken in 2011 when the duo were in Scotland for a badminton competition.

Despite being singled out as someone with ability beyond his years, Loh was never one to keep his talents to himself and often taught others how to improve. 

Mr Tan recounted that after he played at tournaments alongside Loh, his teammate would give him advice on how to improve after each match, something that competitors do not usually do.

Loh was also not one to boast of his achievements and remained “grounded” through his progress in his younger years, Mr Tan added.

NATIONAL SERVICE EXPERIENCE 

Ms Jiang Yanmei, technical manager with the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA), was one of Loh’s coaches between 2010 and 2013. She herself was a former national shuttler who played in the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.

She told TODAY that Loh was “always very determined” in training. 

His grit and determination to stay at the top of his game was on full display during his National Service (NS) stint between 2016 and 2018, she said.

By then, he was already under national singles coach Kelvin Ho, but Ms Jiang was still in contact with him. 

Despite Loh having to train full-time as a transport operator in the army, SBA had worked with national sports governing body Sport Singapore and the Ministry of Defence to work out his schedule so that he could continue training and competing to “maintain his standard”, she said. 

“I don’t think it affected his career… he made a choice to enter NS at the right time because he wanted to play in the 2020 Olympics and during the two years (as a serviceman), it also sharpened his character.”

Agreeing, Mr Tan said that Loh was disciplined in training during his time in the army. For instance, even if there was no court practice, Loh would train in his own time.

“It’s part of his duty to serve the nation (and) he didn’t really complain,” Mr Tan added. 

At the press conference held at the airport on Tuesday, Loh said that he laughs off online comments about how he is an imported talent.

Loh came to Singapore from Penang in Malaysia in 2010 at the age of 13 to attend the Singapore Sports School.

His family still lives in Penang and one of his brothers, Loh Kean Hean, lives in Singapore. Kean Hean, 26, is also a Singapore citizen and national badminton player.

“On the internet, anyone can say whatever they want and… this will never end,” the new world champion said.

He added that he will continue to focus on playing badminton and doing what he can to make Singapore proud.

Related topics

Loh Kean Yew badminton Badminton World Championship Sports athlete

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