I BECAME quite popular after winning the singles gold medal at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games.
My fan base grew drastically and I had many loyal supporters. It did not stop there, though. I started receiving many love letters, too.
I used to find my letterbox at the BAM (Badminton Association of Malaysia) full of mail – mainly from girls. And they popped up some times at the BAM office hoping to see me.
I remember going to Guangzhou, China, and there was this lady reporter who never left my sight! She was there at the training sessions, matches and interviews.
One fan compiled all the paper cuttings about me in a beautifully-decorated album and presented it to me. On every page, she scribbled notes complimenting me. I still feel the goose bumps thinking about it now.
Those were unforgettable moments for me. But for some budding athletes, all these distractions may pose a major problem.
So, how do you handle a fan’s obsession or adoration?
I am a traditionalist on this matter.
As a young boy growing up, I had my fair share of crushes and puppy love (I am not revealing them here!).
But then I knew what I wanted. I was quite focused on my badminton career right from the start. I appreciated the fans’ support but I knew my boundaries.
Even when I got into a relationship (with Leaw Pik Sim) during the height of my career, I was able to strike a balance. I am married to her now.
I am grateful that Pik Sim was very supportive and she still is.
Remember my former team-mates Ong Ewe Hock and Jason Wong? They were dating these twin sisters during their playing days, but they had their priorities right and it didn’t jeopardise their careers. They eventually got married after hanging up their racquets.
Knowing and understanding one’s priority is the key.
Not all relationships are a bed of roses. There are bound to be ups and downs.
Athletes must learn to manage them. It should not go to the extent of affecting one’s commitment and performances.
A positive message from one’s partner before a tournament can be an extra motivation, but a fight or a quarrel can also ruin one’s focus in a game.
I think it is important for athletes to consult a counsellor if they are stuck in a messy relationship. There are psychologists at the ISN (National Sports Institute) to help athletes deal with any issues in life.
But I do hope the National Sports Associations (NSAs) engage a full-time counsellor – one that’s reliable and trustworthy to help these athletes go through their struggles.
Even coaches or parents can play this role by giving good advice.
As for the single athletes, they should not succumb to peer pressure. Just focus on your sporting career and you will do just fine.
Is there a right time for an athlete to have a life partner? I guess it all depends on each individual.
It is all about making the right choices at the right time.