Underdogs Wong and Liang to show Olympic bite

Singapore badminton players Derek Wong (left) and Liang Xiaoyu.
Singapore badminton players Derek Wong (left) and Liang Xiaoyu. ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM

Two more athletes will join Team Singapore's contingent at this August's Olympics after yesterday's world rankings earned badminton players Derek Wong and Liang Xiaoyu places in the singles events.

They qualified by being ranked among the top 34 eligible for quota places, and will be the Republic's only shuttlers in Rio.

While Wong will be marking his second straight Olympics, Liang will be making her debut - somewhat of a surprise given that she had been targeting the 2020 Tokyo Games. The 20-year-old said even though her world ranking started to rise high enough last year to put her in contention for an Olympic place, she did not think too much of it.

"I wasn't too confident," she told The Straits Times yesterday. "I had just started playing in the Open category and I'm still one of the younger and more inexperienced players in the national team."

But towards the end of last year, an upset win over 2013 world champion and world No. 2 Ratchanok Intanon raised her hopes of making the Rio Games. She qualified ranked 21st in the Badminton World Federation's (BWF) Olympic rankings.

Said Liang, a Jiangsu native who followed her parents to Singapore in 2007, when her father started working here as a school badminton coach: "I'm going to be up against a lot of stronger players at the Olympics and I know many of them have a lot more experience than me.

"But I'm not going to treat it like I'm just going to make up the numbers there. There wouldn't be much significance in going if that were the case."

Team-mate Wong, 27, will be demanding more of himself too. He admitted that as a player who grabbed one of the last few quota places available - he was 31st in the BWF's Olympic singles rankings - he will be seen as the underdog.

Said the world No. 63, a silver medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games: "It's going to be a very tough fight at the Olympics. But the Commonwealth Games has showed me that on my day, I can compete with some of the best players around. That's the mentality that I will bring to the Olympics."

National chief coach Chua Yong Joo said the shuttlers will compete at the Indonesia Open at the end of the month and the Australian Open next month. But the bulk of preparation for the Olympics will be spent at home, with plans to invite players from other countries to Singapore to train with the team.

With no doubles pairs making the cut, the badminton squad in Rio will be Singapore's smallest since the 2004 Olympics. The Republic fielded three shuttlers (two events) in Athens, five (four events) in Beijing, and four (three events) in London. Twenty-two Singapore athletes have qualified for Rio so far.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline 'Underdogs Wong and Liang to show Olympic bite'. Print Edition | Subscribe