IN probably the most unbelievable David-Goliath sporting tales in Singapore history, badminton unknown Loh Kean Yew (above) scored a sensational victory over two-time Olympic singles champion Lin Dan 21-19, 21-18 to win the Thailand Masters finals on Sunday.
From Minister Grace Fu right down to the sporting heartlanders, Singaporeans were simply astounded how 21-year-old Loh, ranked 125th in the world, got over a vastly more experienced opponent in Lin, who was also the tournament’s top seed.
In true never-say-die Singaporean spirit, he displayed nerves of steel as he won the match in straight sets, to take home the winner’s cheque of US$11,250 (S$15,000).
“It’s an honour to be able to play with Lin Dan, to stand on the same stage as him. It’s been my dream since young,” Loh says. “He is very experienced and it wasn’t easy to play with him.
“I think I used my age as an advantage to outrun him. I can’t really remember what was going through my head but I think I just kept telling myself to stay focused.”
FIRST HEAD-TO-HEAD MEETING
This is his first head-to-head meeting with Lin, currently ranked 13th in the world.
For the record, the Thailand Masters is a Super 300 tournament, four levels below the top-tiered BWF world tour finals.
“My targets aren’t going to change just because I won a tournament. I do feel happy but, to be consistent is more important,” adds Loh. “Since young, Olympic gold has been my dream and it hasn’t changed yet.”
The accolades quickly pouring and Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu, in a Facebook post, called Loh’s win “a fantastic achievement” and “inspiring”.
“Congrats to TeamSG shuttler Loh Kean Yew for claiming our first Badminton World Federation World Tour crown! In a thrilling final today, he fought for every point until he triumphed over two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan,” she wrote.
“Kean Yew – a fantastic achievement and thank you for inspiring all of us to dream big!” she addS.
Team Singapore also congratulated Loh on his win: “History has been made…our Singapore flag is flying high as we stand together with you in this victory,” it said.
His triumph will definitely come as a massive shot-in-the-arm for badminton, which is the fifth most participated sport in Singapore with regular players projected minimally at just over 170,000.
Loh was born in Penang, Malaysia, and moved to Singapore after he received Foreign Sports Scholarship from the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA), and educated at the Singapore Sports School.
MODEST AT HEART
His brother, Loh Kean Hean, who represented Singapore in the South-east Asia (SEA) Games. He was the bronze medallist in the men’s singles event in 2015 and in the men’s team in 2015 and 2017. He also won the Singapore International tournament in 2014 and 2017 and Malaysia International in 2017. He also competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
Always modest at heart, Loh says: “I discovered my talent in badminton when I beat other players just after only six months of training. The flame of passion has been burning ever since.”
True to form, he proved it on Sunday with the biggest sporting talking point in Singapore sporting folklore in recent years with a sensational victory over two-time Olympic singles champion Lin Dan.
You’re a Singapore sports hero, Loh!
For the record, the phrase ‘David and Goliath’ has taken on a more popular social and sporting meaning, denoting a genuine underdog situation, a contest where a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary…and unbelievably triumphs.