PETALING JAYA: Teoh Seng Khoon (pic), the last surviving member of the 1949 Thomas Cup winning team, died peacefully in Ipoh on Tuesday.
He was 99.
Known by the British press as “The Little Men from the Far East”, Seng Khoon and his teammates – Chan Kon Leong, Ooi Teik Hock, Law Teik Hock, Lim Kee Fong, Ong Poh Lim, Wong Peng Soon, Yeoh Teck Chye and team Captain Lim Chuan Geok – won Malaysia’s first Thomas Cup in December 1949.
They won against the then powerhouse, the United States, in the semi-finals before going on to beat Denmark 8-1 in the final. It was truly a remarkable achievement, considering their long journey by sea to England.
The team took over three weeks to travel by boat to London and they had the additional challenge of not being able to train throughout their journey.
To stay fit, they followed on-deck exercise routines and played “shadow” badminton when the weather was fine.
It was winter in the northern hemisphere then and they arrived to bitterly cold temperatures.
This in itself was a huge shock to Seng Khoon and company.
The team had only ever experienced the tropics and heating in the venue at Alexandra Palace was virtually non-existent, given post-war austerity. As such, winning the Thomas Cup under such circumstances, was indeed amazing.
His granddaughter Teoh Su Yin said Seng Khoon recalled to his grandchildren during his 90th birthday celebration that one of his greatest memories of his badminton career was “winning the Thomas Cup”.
“The glory of representing your country and holding up the Cup to the sight of a large hero’s welcome when our ship arrived home,” he said.
Interestingly, he also said: “It did not matter that we were given just £3 (RM15.98) for our effort, as we were incredibly proud that we had just put Malaya on the badminton map, especially at a time when the second World War had just ended.”
Seng Khoon and Teik Hock also won the All-England doubles title in 1949 and they remained unbeatable as a pair.
Seng Khoon, an alumnus of the ACS Ipoh, spent his early years as a journalist and later as the Ipoh bureau chief for the Straits Echo and Times of Malaya. He married the late Foo Soon Tai and together they had a son, Teoh Kah Tin, and three daughters, Teoh Seok Leng, Teoh Mei Ling and Teoh Suat Leng.
His badminton career was truly amateur, given that sponsorship and prize money was, in those days, simply unheard of. Fit until the end, he was driving well into his early nineties and was a regular sight in Ipoh old town having his daily cup of kopi and noodles up until a few months ago.