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Saturday November 8, 2008

Badminton: Birthday boy Seng Khoon relives Malaysia’s first Thomas Cup win

KUALA LUMPUR: The glint in his eyes on a wrinkled face, a firm handshake and a remarkable memory did well to disguise the real age of Teoh Seng Khoon, who celebrates his 90th birthday today.

In fact, the fit-looking Seng Khoon still drives around in his neighbourhood in Ipoh.

Those were the days: Teoh Seng Khoon looking at the 1949 Thomas Cup pictures at his residence in Ipoh recently.

But Seng Khoon is no ordinary man. He is the only living member of the 1949 Thomas Cup winning team. That’s almost 60 years ago!

Ask him to relive the tale of yesteryears, especially about how Malaysia won their first Thomas Cup, and his wrinkled face lights up immediately.

All the other members of that Cup-winning team — Wong Peng Soon, Ooi Teik Hock, Chan Kon Leong, Law Teik Hock, Lim Kee Fong, Ong Poh Lim, Yeoh Teck Chye and non-playing captain Lim Chuan Geok — have passed away.

“It was my first trip away from home. We went to London by ship. We ran and did skipping on the ship to keep ourselves fit,” recalled Seng Khoon, who formed one of the most lethal doubles combination with the late Teik Hock.

Seng Khoon-Teik Hock also won the All-England doubles title in the same year and never lost as a pair.

“The journey took us about three weeks and we arrived in London shivering in the cold. But we were quick to adjust (to the weather condition). We even brought rice all the way from Malaya.”

The 1949 Thomas Cup winning squad (from left): Chan Kon Leong, Yeoh Teck Chye, Teoh Seng Khoon, Ooi Teik Hock, Lim Chuan Geok (non-playing captain), Wong Peng Soon, Law Teik Hock, Lim Kee Fong and Ong Poh Lim.

(To be exact, the team took 25 days to arrive on the coldest December day in 58 years in London. In fact, the team stayed in Europe for almost six months - competing in other Open tournaments as well.)

“The United States of America were the powerhouses then. England and Denmark were also good. They had never heard of Malaya, though. They did not even know where Malaya was,” recalled Seng Khoon vividly.

But the Malaya team thrust themselves into the limelight when they stunned the dream team of the United States, spearheaded by the then mighty Dave Freeman, 6-3 in the semi-finals.

In the final, Malaya handed Denmark, who had proudly declared that they would sweep past the Asian minnows, an 8-1 thrashing!

Seng Khoon and his team-mates were given a hero’s welcome on arrival in Singapore before going on to parade the trophy around Malaya.

That was all. They was no money, fame or glory.

“The only reward that I can think of was the £3 voucher I received for winning the All-England doubles title with Teik Hock,” he said, bursting into a hearty laughter.

Seng Khoon, who continued working as bureau chief with the Times of Malaya and Straits Echo during his playing days, is happy to see the sport has evolved over the years.

“Wooden racquets from Dunlop and Slazenger were the in-thing back in my time. I remember the Bluebird and Jacques shuttlecocks. Usually, we would pick up the feathers which had fallen from the shuttles and glue them back to be re-used during trainings,” he said.

“There were no expensive racquets or centralised training centres or coaches or physical trainers or psychologists. Just a lot of self-discipline and will power. We also had to adapt to the open-air training courts and have a strong determination to fight against the odds for success.

“So many changes have taken place. These days a player must be aggressive under the new format. They cannot play defensively, especially at the crucial 15-16 points. If you look at Lin Dan (of China), he always goes on the attack at this stage,” added Seng Khoon, who admitted that he still enjoys watching the game on television.

“I think the tough times made us tougher those days. The hunger to win ... to push ourselves beyond the limit ... these are the traits that the current set of players lack.”

He also spoke passionately about the Foong Seong Cup, which he explained was the platform for the state players to fight for the right to represent the country.

All Seng Khoon has to remind him of the glory years are his black-and-white photographs and his own sweet memories.

Asked if his achievements have been recognised by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), he said: “Besides what I remember, I only have photos to remind me of my playing days. (One of the photos was of him shaking hands with the Duke of Edinburgh). No, I do not think the BAM even know me.”

It is a pity that the BAM do not treasure their stars of the past. There are no records of their achievements and how they fought against odds to win honours for the country.

It’s about time the BAM have their own Hall of Fame and show their appreciation for people like Seng Khoon and all those stars of past years.

And what better way than to get the ball rolling today. It will be a perfect 90th birthday gift for Seng Khoon.

How Malaya won the 1949 Thomas Cup

Semi-final (played at Glasgow on Feb 21-22)

Malaya bt USA 6-3

Singles: Wong Peng Soon bt M. Mendez 15-11, 11-15, 15-10; Peng Soon lost to Dave Freeman 4-15, 1-15; Ooi Teik Hock lost to Freeman 10-15, 15-10, 4-15; Teik Hock bt Mendez 15-11, 16-17, 15-10; Law Teik Hock lost to C. Loveday 12-15, 5-15

Doubles: Yeoh Teck Chye-Chan Kon Leong bt C. Stephens-R. Williams 15-7, 15-12; Teck Chye-Kon Leong bt Freeman-W. Rogers 15-9, 15-7; Teoh Seng Khoon-Teik Hock bt Freeman-Rogers 15-8, 7-15, 15-8; Seng Khoon-Teik Hock bt Stephens-Williams 9-15, 15-6, 15-11.

Final (Played at Preston on Feb 25-26)

Malaya bt Denmark 8-1

Singles: Law Teik Hock bt Jorn Skaarup 15-5, 15-0; Teik Hock lost to Mogens Felsby 11-15, 1-15; Ooi Teik Hock bt Mogens Felsby 15-9, 15-2; Teik Hock bt Skaarup 14-18, 15-13, 15-9; Ong Poh Lim bt Poul Holm 17-14, 15-8

Doubles: Yeoh Teck Chye-Chan Kon Leong bt Poul Holm-Ib Olesen 15-4, 15-6; Teck Chye-Kon Leong bt John Skaarup-Preben Dabelsteen 15-2, 15-4; Teoh Seng Khoon-Ooi Teik Hock bt Skaarup-Dabelsteen 15-11, 15-10; Seng Khoon-Teik Hock bt Holm-Olesen 15-6, 15-7