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Sunday, December 10, 2006

The State of Malaysian Badminton + Squash Legend Nicol David

Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong winning the semis

Badminton is one of the most popular sports in Malaysia, its popularity mostly contributed by the fact that the wife of Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir's a hardcore badminton fan. I, like most Malaysians, would root for the the national badminton players during major sporting events, like the Olympics, the World Championships, the various tournaments, or Thomas Cup (the Badminton equivalent of the World Cup?). As a child, I used to watch in excitement as our own players advance deep into the tournaments, rooting for their victory.

The legendary Malaysian badminton squad that won the 1992 Thomas Cup

Of course, that's before the wins started becoming less and less throughout the years. After a glorious victory back in 1992, Malaysia had never won the Thomas Cup since then. And then, in 1996, our doubles team of Yap Kim Hock (currently the national coach) and Cheah Soon Kit managed to get into the finals for the first time in history, and I stayed up late with my parents to watch the match against the invincible Indonesia pair, Ricky and Rexy (currently the national doubles coach), and I remembered how my heart was broken when, after taking the first set, our doubles player lost the next two, and we ended up with a silver medal (currently the only silver medal my country ever had in the Olympics, and no, we have yet to win a gold medal).

1998, I found myself a new favourite player in emerging star Roslin Hashim, running into him at a shopping mall when I was with my friend, I shook hands with him and told him that I was his new fan (I was 14 and fanboyish). Well, let's just say that his career since then hadn't been as pleasant as his early career had promised.

After that, I got increasingly cynical and hesitant when it came to supporting the Malaysian badminton players. Why support them when it was near impossible for them to win the big tournaments? Why hope so much when I would just end up disappointed? Jumping to the Indonesian or Chinese bandwagon would've been so much easier since badminton had always been dominated by these two countries (Korea and Denmark are usually powerhouses too). Why were the badminton players getting so much attention when our own squash player, Nicol David, was even more impressive at international tournaments? Winning world championships and such? In a fairer world, squash should've gotten the kind of attention badminton had, since Nicol David had turned into a major superstar... being a 2-time world champion and current number one female player in the world. All at the age of 23. Sheesh. She's already a living legend. What she is to Malaysia should be what Ian Thorpe is to Australia.

Nicol David
Nicol David, squash world champion

Nicol David
Nicol David in action

Go Nicol!

Anyway, 2002, Malaysia got into the Thomas Cup finals again. It was a group event. I remember we were leading 2-1 after both our singles players secured wins (our top doubles team lost)... and then we ended up losing 2-3, with Roslin Hashim losing in the deciding match. I blamed myself for tainting his luck after our handshake four years before the match. Poor Roslin.

After that, I went off to Perth, and it was impossible for me to follow any badminton matches (all I knew was that we returned medal-less during the 2004 Olympics).

But few hours ago, something historic had just happened. Newly-formed doubles pair Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong had just won the very first badminton doubles gold medal in THIRTY SIX YEARS! My country's badminton doubles pair... finally delivering when it matters? I was initially cynical when I was watching the match on television with my cousin and uncle (BY THE WAY, I AM CURRENTLY IN IPOH, A MALAYSIAN STATE TWO HOURS AWAY FROM KUALA LUMPUR, IT'S MY MOM'S HOMETOWN, WE'RE VISITING MY GRANDMA). I sneered bitterly before the match, asking what is there to root for when the Indonesian players would most probably win again. Why place so much hope on our own players when it will bring nothing but heartbreak and disappointment?

Can't believe that I was finally wrong in a match that lasted less than half an hour.

Maybe, just maybe, Malaysian badminton is something worth watching again.

Maybe, the Great Swifty should make a badminton-themed film, an underdog Rocky-type film (but with badminton), or an insane Shaolin Soccer (or Prince of Tennis-type) film with badminton. (I shit you not, I'm seriously considering this)

Maybe, the Great Swifty's return to his home country had brought luck to the Malaysian badminton players, that by suddenly supporting and cheering again, his faith had brought forth this wondrous event.

Now, all I want is to see more female badminton players dressing up just as sexily as the female tennis players (like, ah, Maria Sharapova), and my conversion to badminton fanaticism will be complete again.

Maria Sharapova is yummy
Maria Sharapova

But for the time being, let's just congratulate the newly crowned Asian champions, Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong. Yes, even my dear readers from overseas should join in the fun.