Singapore's Loh Kean Yew is badminton world champion

Loh Kean Yew's breakthrough will easily rank among Singapore's greatest sporting feats. PHOTO: AFP
Loh Kean Yew has stunned the badminton world by becoming the first Singaporean to win the World Championships. PHOTO: AFP
On the final point, when a push to the back court landed in, Loh Kean Yew sank to his knees but ascended into sporting legend. PHOTO: AFP
Loh Kean Yew upset India's world No. 14 Srikanth Kidambi 21-15, 22-20 in the final in Huelva, Spain. PHOTO: AFP
Loh Kean Yew and his coach on the podium after the final. PHOTO: AFP
India's world No. 14 Srikanth Kidambi during the World Championships final against Loh Kean Yew on Dec 19, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

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 had to use a wheelchair 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, Singapore 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 in a wheelchair as he could not walk after his BWF World Championship semi-final win over Denmark's Anders Antonsen. PHOTO: LOH KEAN YEW
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In 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.

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On Dec 19, Loh Kean Yew stunned the badminton world by becoming the first Singaporean to win the World Championships. He talks to David Lee about his win, his feelings at almost having to withdraw through injury and what comes after winning gold.

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.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added: “Well done, Kean Yew! You do Singapore proud. Looking forward to your next success!”

Carving his place among badminton’s elite, Loh has beaten six out of the world’s top 10 players in the past three months.

Loh Kean Yew celebrating moments after beating India's Srikanth Kidambi at the World Championships in Huelva on Dec 19, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

At these World Championships, he stunned Denmark's world No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen in the opening round and world No. 3 Anders Antonsen in the semi-finals.

Besides capturing the Dutch Open and Hylo Open titles, he also claimed the scalps of Japan's then world No. 1 Kento Momota (Indonesia Open), Malaysia's world No. 7 and All England champion Lee Zii Jia (French Open) and Chinese Taipei's world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen (Hylo Open).

 

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Loh Kean Yew's brother Kean Hean (top left) and his friends celebrate Kean Yew's win from Singapore. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Loh's meteoric rise caps a tremendous year for Singapore sport, as it continues to punch above its weight on the international stage.

Swimmer Yip Pin Xiu won two golds at the Aug 24-Sept 5 Tokyo Paralympics, pool pro Aloysius Yapp reached the summit of the world rankings in October, and bowler Shayna Ng clinched a historic women's singles world championship title in November.

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