YAP Kim Hock’s position as the Malaysian badminton chief coach was on the line and he wore a worried look after the men’s team fell to a 1-3 defeat by South Korea in the semi-finals a week ago.
The National Sports Council (NSC) had not rated badminton as a gold medal prospect but Kim Hock promised to deliver one to the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM). And it took a world-class performance from the young doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong to end a 36-year drought.
The unseeded pair, who bore the brunt of criticism from their Indonesian coach Rexy Mainaky a few days after the team defeat, vindicated themselves by beating four higher ranked pairs, including reigning world champions and top seeds Fu Haifeng-Cai Yun of China to bag the men’s doubles gold.
They maintained their fiery attacking pace to win all their matches in straight games and under 30 minutes and downed Alvent Yulianto-Luluk Hadiyanto of Indonesia 21-13, 21-14 in the final.
The last time Malaysia won gold in Asiad badminton was in 1970 in Bangkok. Then, Punch Gunalan took the singles and partnered Ng Boon Bee to the doubles title. Boon Bee and Sylvia Ng secured the third gold from the mixed doubles.
Since China joined the international badminton fraternity in the late 70s and from the current standard of play, Kien Keat-Boon Heong have certainly achieved a rare feat.
The Sidek brothers – Razif and Jalani – only managed bronze in Beijing in 1990. Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang settled for the silver in Hiroshima in 1994, losing to Rexy-Ricky Subagja.
And that was the last time Malaysia were represented in an individual final.
Hats off to the young Malaysian pair for bagging the elusive Asian Games gold in their first attempt.
The Asian Games feature a world-class field, with the exception of Denmark.
Kien Keat could barely sleep on Saturday after the win, finding it difficult to believe that they had delivered a gold for Malaysia.
“The feeling was great. We were not even born when Malaysia last won gold in the Asian Games,” said the 21-year-old Kien Keat.
“The pressure was increasing, especially in the final, when the Indonesians started pile it on. But I got the confidence when we managed to overcome a two-point deficit to go to 11-10 in the second game. We opened up a big lead after that and that was when we knew we would win it.”
The 19-year-old Boon Heong, who only began training regularly with Kien Keat a month ahead of the Doha Asiad, said that their self-belief grew after beating Haifeng-Cai Yun.
“The coaches (Kim Hock and Rexy) did not advise us much on the tactical skills. Rexy only told us to maintain our usual game but he gave lots of positive encouragement. Most importantly, he wanted us to stay focused on the task.”
Boon Heong added that their main target now was to qualify for the World Championships in Kuala Lumpur next year.
HOW KIEN KEAT-BOON HEONG WON THE GOLD MEDAL
First round: beat Hasan Sayed-Hasan Jafar (Bru) 21-1, 21-3 (8mins)
Second round: beat Hwang Ji-man-Lee Jae-jin (Kor) 21-18, 21-14 (27mins)
Quarter-final: beat Fu Haifeng-Cai Yun (Chn) 21-9, 21-19 (26mins)
Semi-finals: beat Markis Kido-Hendra Setiawan (Ina) 21-16, 21-13 (20mins)
Final: beat Alvent Yulianto-Luluk Hadiyanto (Ina) 21-13, 21-14 (27mins)