LOH Kean Yew's finest weapon may not be his youth, his speed, his enthusiasm but his ambition. At 17, in his first SEA Games, he was gratified to be in the men's singles semi-finals and yet he was clearly unsatisfied.
Congratulated on his automatic bronze medal yesterday after his 21-7, 21-7 quarter-final win over Cambodia's Tep Chanmara, the teenage Singaporean grinned and politely said: "I'm actually aiming to go higher."
Fellow Singaporean Derek Wong will however go no further. In his quarter-final, the world No. 52 tested the world No. 22 from Thailand, Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk, but could not best him, losing 18-21, 21-17, 13-21.
Wong produced electric moments before a full, baying crowd and a tireless cheer squad that will require throat lozenges after their fine vocal work. He dived, retrieved, smashed, flicked but the rangy Thai tied his hair and his rival in creative knots.
"I gave my all," said the 26- year-old, "but maybe I played too slow. He played very well today."
Wong led the first game 17-16 and lost it, won the second, trailed in the third 4-11 before rallying to 9-12. But then his charge extinguished. "I was trying hard to catch up but the gap was too big," he said.
His compatriot, Kean Yew, who left Malaysia for Singapore at 13, is a charming character. Asked if he was nervous, he flashed a smile and said: "Not really. The Singapore crowd is here."
Kean Yew has come a long way. He followed his brother Kean Hean into badminton when he was seven and in primary school was bullied, left and returned to the sport at nine.
Now, it is unlikely he will leave. Ask what he enjoys about the game and he thinks a while and says: "It's just fun."
Today, he plays Malaysia's Mohamad Arif Ab Latif in the semis and this much at least, he says, is certain: "I will give 110 per cent."
Yet, the 17-year-old was still not the best blooming story of the evening. That was written by Malaysian Goh Jin Wei, who is 15, and world No. 264 and yet fought her young way past world No. 36 Nichaon Jindapon of Thailand 21-16, 23-21 in the quarter-finals.
Jin Wei discovered badminton when her mother wanted her to go out as a child and amuse herself. Yesterday she simply entertained the crowd.
"I am quite surprised," she said, but she really shouldn't have been. After all, the brand name of her bag captured her current status perfectly. It read VICTOR.