PETALING JAYA: Next month’s Tokyo Olympics will only be his maiden appearance, but Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew isn’t afraid to dream big.
The 23-year-old Penang-born shuttler has set his sights on becoming the first Singaporean to win a medal in badminton since the sport first made the programme in 1992.
Singapore’s best achievement in badminton at the Olympics was when Ronald Susilo reached the last eight in Athens 2004.
But world No. 42 Kean Yew aims to surpass that feat despite knowing the odds are heavily stacked against him.
“Although I’m not a favourite in this Olympics, my goal is (still) to win a medal, ” said Kean Yew in an interview with the largest Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.
“After all, no one in Singapore has ever won an Olympic medal for badminton.”
However, Kean Yew is under no illusions that he may have to wait longer to pursue his Olympics dream - in the event the Tokyo Games is called off again.
There has been repeated calls for Tokyo 2020, which had already been postponed for a year, to be cancelled because the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging across the world including in Japan itself.
“In fact, even until now we’re still worried about whether the Olympics will be held, ” he said.
“I try my best to train with the mindset to gear up for competitions, just like how I prepared recently for the Malaysian and Singapore Opens, but in the end both were called off.
“All the uncertainties are quite worrying indeed.”
Hopes are high on Kean Yew to return home with a commendable result from Tokyo after having enjoyed a remarkable run before the pandemic.
In 2019, Kean Yew made heads turn when he downed two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan to bag his maiden World Tour title at the Thailand Masters.
Kean Yew would go on to reach three more finals – the Hyderabad Open, Russian Open and at the Philippines SEA Games where he lost to childhood rival Lee Zii Jia.
In February last year, he stunned world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan during the Asia Team Championships.
A month later at the Spain Masters, he gave Denmark’s world No. 2 Viktor Axelsen a run for his money before going down 21-13,14-21,15-21 to the eventual champion.
Kean Yew was previously a trainee with the Penang Badminton Association (PBA) until he was 12.
His best achievement in the junior scene was winning the 2009 National Junior Grand Prix Finals, beating Lee Zii Jia in the Under-12 final.
In 2010, he was offered a place in the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) but opted to take up a scholarship offer by the Singapore Schools Sports Council to study and play badminton there.
His brother Kean Yean had also moved there.
Kean Yew is in good hands under renowned Indonesian coach Mulyo Handoyo, who was instrumental in guiding Taufik Hidayat to the men’s singles gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.