JAN 16, 2004
BADMINTON

Too taxing on small squad to take part in Cup while preparing for Olympics

By Peh Shing Huei

SINGAPORE have sacrificed their Uber Cup campaign to fight for a place at the Athens Olympics this August.

The Singapore Badminton Association's decision not to take part in the Uber Cup qualifying tournament came as a major surprise as there were high hopes of making the finals of the prestigious event for the first time.

Last month, Li Li, Jiang Yanmei, Xiao Luxi, Liu Fan and Tan Li Si won Singapore's first women's team badminton gold medal in the 44-year history of the South-east Asia Games. Li Si, who was not fielded in the team event, has decided to resume her studies. The 17-year-old had taken a year off from Temasek Junior College for the Games.

Said SBA executive director Jacqueline Lim: 'We have only four girls, and we must be aware of their physical limits. The standard of the Uber Cup is much higher than the SEA Games and the players have to play a lot more matches to qualify.

'We must avoid career-threatening injuries.'

Although she would not confirm it, it is believed that SBA would rather focus their energies on the Athens Olympiad.

Based on the four girls' showing in Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore had a good chance of making the Uber which has been expanded from eight to 12 teams.

Defending champions China and hosts Indonesia get automatic berths in the biennial event, in Jakarta this May.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Thailand and Malaysia will fight for the four Asian slots in Kuala Lumpur next month.

Japan and South Korea are overwhelming favourites but Singapore could beat the others.

Said Lim: 'Yes, our chances may be good if our girls stay clear of injuries. But if they get injured, then that's it. Our chances for other tournaments will also suffer.

'I don't think it's a waste not to go. We are truthful in our evaluation and realistic of our strength. Don't forget, the girls have to play both singles and doubles.

'There will be other chances and we are building a team for 2006 Uber Cup.'

With local-born players not up to scratch, the SBA have to continue relying on foreign talent.

Three - doubles specialist Li Yujia, 21, Shinta Mulia Sari, 15, and Xing Aiying, 14 - are undergoing trials.

Aiying in particular, has been impressive. Earlier this week, she shocked world No 13 Kelly Morgan of Wales 11-8, 11-8 in a practise match at the Singapore Badminton Hall. The Welsh are here preparing for next week's Thailand Open.

Said Morgan: 'That was my first match after arriving here and I was a little tired. But she was good, and I'm sure she will be very good.

Added teammate Joanne Muggeridge: 'I've never seen anything like this before. So young, and she's so strong.'