Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew is badminton world champion

Since the competition's inception in 1977, only four countries have won gold in the men's singles, and now the Republic has one of its own.

David Lee

David Lee

The Straits Times


Loh Kean Yew upset India's world No. 14 Srikanth Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in the final in Huelva, Spain. PHOTO: AFP

December 20, 2021

SINGAPORE – History took 43 hectic minutes, two games and 78 points. At the end of it, unseeded national shuttler Loh Kean Yew stunned the badminton world by becoming the first Singaporean to win the World Championships.

On Sunday (Dec 19), the Singaporean world No. 22 upset India’s world No. 14 Srikanth Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in the final in Huelva, Spain.

On the final point, when a push to the back court landed in, Loh sank to his knees but ascended into sporting legend.

In a single, inspired week he has crafted one of the greatest moments in this nation’s sporting folklore.

And few would know he did it on one good ankle.

The 24-year-old rolled his right ankle while trying to save a shuttle in Friday’s quarter-final win over India’s Prannoy H. S. and was wheelchair-bound after beating Denmark’s Anders Antonsen in the semi-final on Saturday.

He told The Straits Times: “I thought I was finished because it hurt like hell, and I couldn’t walk. But I told myself to push through the pain and go all out in the final, and coped with ice and some treatment, and it paid off.

“I’m super, super happy. This feels like a dream, and now it’s a dream come true. I grew up watching Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei playing such big finals and now I’m here as the world champion. It’s unbelievable.

“I’m honoured to deliver this first gold for Singapore. I know many Singaporeans have been staying up to follow my progress, and I want to thank everyone for their support and for being a huge motivation.

“I feel I have improved over the past few months, but I still have a long way to go to be where I want to be, and I will continue to work hard to be even better as I chase my dream of winning an Olympic medal for Singapore.”

Since the competition’s inception in 1977, only four countries – China, Indonesia, Denmark and Japan – have won gold in the men’s singles, and now the Republic has one of its own.

In the final, Loh displayed courage and composure despite his injury. He was 9-3 down in the opening frame but roared back. At 12-12, he flung himself to the ground to retrieve a smash and bounced right up for the kill. From that moment, he never looked back.

The second game followed a similar vein and Kidambi was up 18-16, but the underdog was relentless in his quest to become world champion, and did so after winning his third match point.

Loh Kean Yew was wheelchair-bound as he could not walk after his BWF World Championship semi-final win over Denmark’s Anders Antonsen. PHOTO: LOH KEAN YEW

n the other finals, China’s world No. 3 pair of Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan beat fourth-ranked South Koreans Lee So-hee and Shin Seung-chan 21-16, 21-17 to add to their 2017 women’s doubles world title.

Elsewhere, there were new world champions as Japan’s world No. 3 Akane Yamaguchi beat Chinese Taipei’s top-ranked Tai Tzu-ying 21-14, 21-11 in the women’s singles final.

In the men’s doubles final, Japan’s world No. 4 Takuro Hoki and Yugo Kobayashi beat China’s 24th-ranked He Jiting and Tan Qiang 21-12, 21-18, and in the mixed doubles final, Thailand’s world No. 1 Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai beat Japan’s world No. 4 Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino 21-13, 21-14.

But for Singapore badminton, it has been more than a decade since it has made ripples of some magnitude on the international stage.

Loh’s breakthrough will easily rank among Singapore’s greatest sporting feats, which include swimmer Joseph Schooling’s 100m butterfly gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016, as well as Feng Tianwei, Wang Yuegu, Sun Beibei, Li Jiawei and Yu Mengyu’s “Miracle in Moscow”, when they upset mighty China to win the World Team Table Tennis Championships in 2010.

Fu Mingtian claimed the last of the nation’s three SEA Games golds when she won the women’s singles in 2011, while Li Li remains its only Commonwealth Games champion after winning the women’s singles in 2002.

Further back, the late Wong Peng Soon won the last of his four All England titles in 1955.

Singapore President Halimah led the plaudits as she congratulated Loh in a Facebook post, and wrote: “Thank you for flying the Singapore flag high, by dint of sheer hard work and perseverance. We are all proud of you.”

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