CATCHING UP WITH: Ex-badminton ace Tan Yee Khan R.G. RAJ Dec 25: -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Whether he was wielding a badminton racquet or swinging a golf club, Tan Yee Khan believed he had to be better than everyone else. The double international tells R.G. RAJ about his colourful life. HE makes circles in the sand with his big toe as he tells an animated tale of how he landed a whopper on his last fishing trip. A group of people approach, and reach out to shake his hand. One of them says: "This is Yee Khan ... the best badminton player." He laughs and retorts: "Just one of the best." Tan Yee Khan remains among the greats in Malaysian sports. With partner Ng Boon Bee, he ruled badminton courts from Tokyo to London with his speed, power and strength. The same zest and energy helped him conquer greens and fairways when he took up golf. It took just eight months for him to capture the Malaysian Open Amateur Golf title after he retired from badminton in 1970. The next year, he became a double international, selected for the Malaysian Putra Cup team in 1971. He made seven Putra Cup appearances before turning professional in 1978. Today at 65, Tan’s towering six-foot frame is a little on the heavy side. He is taking life easy managing the Sea View Hotel in Pangkor, fishing and playing golf three times a week. He has been running the hotel, which was once managed by his parents, since his elder brother one day told him to take it over. He enjoys cooking and is known to dash into the hotel kitchen to cook up a dish which he serves his friends, and strangers, "on the house". TROPHIES OF A DIFFERENT KIND: Tan showing off his catch of the day at his Sea View Hotel. His curry mee is popular, and, during the last Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta, it was his spicy fried chicken, wrapped in foil, that kept sailors going after an overnight stop at the Seaview Hotel. His glory days still reflect upon him now. "I still get excited when people recognise me, ask me to take pictures with their children and talk about the old times," he said. Tan’s life has been a colourful one, and he enjoys telling the tales as he sits by the beach. For instance, he nearly died when he was seven years old. In 1947, he went with his mother to China, where they stayed in a village. Walking along a padi field, he stepped on a piece of wood. "The ‘wood’ wriggled, turned around and bit me on my leg. Only then did I realise that it was a snake. I screamed and fainted. "Those working in the padi field carried me to my relative’s home. There was no doctor in the village so the old people put some herbs on the wound." They also made him drink juice extracted from leaves they picked and crushed. "It was so bitter, I hated it. They said it was to neutralise the poison. "I stayed in bed a whole month with a swollen leg and had to be spoon-fed and carried to the toilet. Fortunately I survived and returned to Malaysia," he said. He had other close calls during his heyday in badminton. Turbulence struck a small airplane he had taken from New Delhi to Hyderabad for a tournament, causing it to drop several metres and roll. "I was wearing my seat belt and felt the plane flying upside down. The air hostess who was standing next to me was flung around and had a huge cut on the head and bled profusely. One of my friends was thrown from his seat to another three rows away," he said. Another incident came during the Rangoon Seap Games (now Sea Games) in 1969 where he was slated to play in the doubles with Ng. "I was warming up with Punch Gunalan doing backward runs, when I fainted. I fell with a thud. I was unconscious for 24 hours and was rushed to the Rangoon hospital. I had a severe concussion and was admitted for over two weeks. "I did not play at all and could only come back after the Malaysian contingent had returned," he said. In 1958, Tan became the first schoolboy to be selected for a Thomas Cup squad. He missed his Senior Cambridge examination. For three months he trained in Penang with (now Datuk) Eddy Choong, the former All-England champion. "As a young player, I made it a point to observe top players and their style and worked hard to emulate the strokes. There was a lot of self-training with no coaches to guide us," he said. In 1965, Tan and Ng won the All-England title and repeated the feat the following year. His glorious moment was seeing Malaysia beat Indonesia in the controversial Thomas Cup final in 1967. For their accomplishments, Tan and Ng are among those honoured in the International Badminton Federation Hall of Fame, along with Rudy Hartono of Indonesia, Park Joo Bong of Korea, Morten Frost of Denmark. Other Malaysians honoured are Wong Peng Soon, Choong, David Choong and Ong Poh Lim. Content with golfing and fishing these days, he follows developments in the badminton world keenly and does not mince words when asked for an opinion. "Players and coaches from all over the world have learnt from the Malaysian experience. Nowadays, we seem to depend on foreign coaches. If we are keen on producing champions we should look at the talents at home, including the former national players. It is strange that we depend on foreign coaches." He added that self-training, including improving weaknesses and assessing opponents’ strengths to conquer them, was as important as dedication and hard work.