Loh Kean Yew becomes Singapore's first badminton world champion

PHOTO: Screengrab/BWF

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.

The 24-year-old told The Straits Times: “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.

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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.

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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.

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.

As he carves his place among the sport's elite, Loh has beaten six out of the world's top 10 players in the past three months.

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).

The 24-year-old'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.

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.

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