KUALA LUMPUR: National men’s doubles shuttlers Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong used to wear cheap Dragonfly brand rubber shoes when they started playing the game.
Now, they have tailor-made, super light and expensive Yonex footwear to prance about the court.
The duo have come a long way from their humble beginnings but there could be rich pickings if they surprise everyone, including themselves, with a gold medal in the London Olympics from July 28-Aug 5
Based on an impressive reward scheme that awaits the gold medal winning athletes, Kien Keat-Boon Heong could become instant millionaires but neither wants to count his chickens before they hatch.
They could rake in a minimum RM1.85mil each based on the existing scheme if they hit the jackpot, not to mention the RM5,000 monthly pension for the rest of their lives.
The 27-year-old Kien Keat is happy that big bucks await gold medallists but said that money was not the only motivation for him. The priority right now is to end the worrying slump they find themselves in after a fabulous run which began with the gold medal at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
“The monetary rewards will push an athlete to do well but that isn’t the only thing I have been thinking about. Performing at the Olympics is a dream of every athlete and I am no different,” he said.
“The fire and hunger to perform is intensified at the Games and, hopefully, Boon Heong and I will be able to do much better than our quarter-final finish at the Beijing Games,” added Kien Keat.
Then, Kien Keat-Boon Heong went down for the first time in seven meetings to Markis Kido-Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia, who went on to win the gold.
Kien Keat, a former student of St Michael’s Institution in Perak, admitted that money had become big in badminton compared to his younger days.
“It was a rough beginning but, along the way, the situation became better. I haven’t forgotten the hard times. I remember my parents buying me shoes and racquets only when the old ones were really worn out,” said Kien Keat, who now drives a sports car.
“These days, our youngsters start their careers with expensive equipment. I’m not envious but times have changed.”
Boon Heong said his hard childhood had made him stronger.
“I used to wear Dragonfly shoes too. I even played on despite holes in the soles. I moved to Selangor under their state programme when I was in my teens and my father used to give me RM500 a month.
“He was only earning RM1,600 then but he really wanted me to do well in badminton. The money went towards paying my rent and for my meals and transport,” said Boon Heong, who was roped into the national team a year later.
“It does feel good to be rewarded for success but, for now, I don’t want to think about rewards. My focus is on performing well at the Olympics.”
Kien Keat-Boon Heong have not won any major titles since the Malaysian Open Super Series in 2010 and the time is ripe for the duo to prove their critics wrong and strike gold in London against the odds.
That would be some achievement. The rewards would be great too.