THERE's a saying I've learned to be very, very true. You can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia, but you can't take the Malaysian spirit out of a Malaysian.
It was true when I was an undergraduate in England in the 2000s, and it was certainly also true exactly 50 years ago when my father, Tan Aik Huang won the Men's Singles title at the 1966 All-England Badminton Championship on March 26, 1966.
I was talking with him over Chinese New Year, and he shared with me some eye-opening facts about his first trip to the trophy in 1965, when he went to the Championships after receiving an invitation from the Badminton Association of England.
"At the time, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) had no money, and when I left Malaysia two weeks early on my own to get acclimatized for such an important Championship, I left with no funds or supplies from BAM, except for four Fred Perry sports shirts with the Malaysian crest sewn on the front of each shirt," he said.
This got my attention, because when our shuttlers of today leave for the All-England they have a whole team with them. They fly off with managers, coaches and trainers. And when they land, their accommodation, food and final training expenses are all covered by BAM.
So I wondered how my father survived in London during those two weeks, because England - especially London - is not a cheap place to live in if you're coming from somewhere like Malaysia. It's true now, and it was certainly true in 1965 and 1966.
His answer was heart-warming. Malaysians and Singaporeans got together to give him a place to stay for the Championship in 1965.
"I had great help and to this day I am very grateful to Dr Lee Kin Tat. He is a Singaporean and was a student in Imperial College at the time. I stayed at his Westbourne Terrace flat and we practiced at the All-England Badminton Club in Wimbledon at our own expense," said my father.
He added that Dr Lee and the Malaysian community also came together to support his teammates, Ng Boon Bee, Tan Yee Khan, Yew Cheng Hoe and Billie Ng when they came to join him a week later.
"We managed ourselves, but we had great help from Kin Tat and fellow Malaysians in London," said my father.
He added that this same community spirit was present when he and his teammates arrived in London for the 1966 Championship, as Dr Lee and others from the Malaysian community came to lend the team a hand.
"It would have been very difficult for us without the genuine assistance and hospitality of Kin Tat, Ong Soo Kit, Oon Khai Beng - the father of the Oon badminton trio of Chong Teik, Chong Jin and Chong Hau – as well as Donny Chan, Ng Goon Foong, and the late Lee Teng Woon," said my father.
And in recounting the run-up to the 1966 Championship, my father had one more surprising story.
"During the 1966 All England the five of us - Boon Bee, Yee Khan, Billie Ng, Cheng Hoe and myself - were so short of funds that we could not afford to rent two double rooms in a cheap hotel. We finally found one hotel which was willing to cram all five of us in a room that was just slightly bigger than a double room," he said.
That left me amazed. Imagine if you will, five of our best badminton players today having to share a room due to budgetary reasons? There would be such a hue and cry, both through social media and official channels if this happened today.
But back then, this was what our champions had to go through to represent Malaysia, and they faced the challenges in their path without complaint.
They took everything in their stride and brought back victory.
At this point I couldn't help but wonder why it seems like our shuttlers of today seem to be struggling in spite of all the support that's there for them, and I asked my father what our sportsmen could do to improve their performance.
He proposed they should ask themselves three vital questions and answer them truthfully.
> How often have you said to your coaches and trainers, "I don't have enough training today"
> How often have you discussed, debated and argued with your coaches that your game is not sharp enough, and how often have you explored ways to improve your game with them?
> How often have you entertained the thought that you can beat Lin Dan, Chen Long, Lee Chong Wei or Carolina Marin?
And he pointed out that the players of today are supported to a level that he or his teammates could only dream of back in 1966.
"You have first class coaches paid for by BAM, with BAM footing the bill for your halls, shuttlecocks, medical treatment, sports medicine facilities and doctors - almost everything is free for a player," said my father.
With that, I ask one question. Our generation has it good. Can we be great?
I'd like to think we could, provided we have the right mindset.
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