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[straitstimes] Finally, a gold like never before

Discussion in 'South East Asian Games 2003' started by Xu Zhen, Dec 9, 2003.

  1. Xu Zhen

    Xu Zhen Regular Member

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    First women's badminton gold for Singapore after 3-2 win over Thailand

    By Peh Shing Huei

    AT 1.24pm, the boisterous cheers of the past four hours quietened into a murmur at the Tan Binh Hall yesterday. The still-hot plastic clappers sat quietly by popiah king Sam Goi's side in front of Court 2.

    The singular focus of rapt attention was Singapore's doubles pair, Jiang Yanmei and Liu Fan.

    They were at match-point, one point away from helping Singapore clinch the first women's team badminton gold medal in the 44-year history of the South-east Asia Games.

    Jiang served low to Thailand's Kulchala Worawichitchaikul, who skimmed the shuttle over the net towards the back court.

    The shuttle flew across the net six more times before Kulchala lifted her shot into the net. 15-7. The gold was Singapore's.

    Goi, who is also the Singapore Badminton Association's deputy president, was speechless.

    Li Li, the unflappable anchor of the team who had won Singapore's first point in the opening singles, unfurled the national flag.

    National coach You Guangli sprinted to the tearful Jiang and Liu like a teenager instead of the 67-year-old that he is. 'Finally,' whispered Li Li. After an intense - and for Singapore, epic - marathon battle lasting 4hr 24min, the Singaporeans subdued the fighting Thais 3-2.

    After 20 years, Singapore won their first SEA Games badminton gold since Wong Shoon Keat's men's singles victory.

    It was only the second time that Singapore have won a badminton gold in the SEA Games, such was the fate of being located in the heart of global badminton prowess.

    Indonesia, Malaysia and to a certain extent, Thailand, often proved to be insurmountable barriers for an island nation long on badminton history and short on critical talent mass. After 21 SEA Games, Singapore won a gold in women's badminton. So who should have been surprised at the tears that flowed, even if they were from a Cabinet Minister?

    'Sorry, but this is a dream come true,' said Environment Minister Lim Swee Say by way of apology for the tears that welled from his eyes.

    'For the last few years, we could not even put together a team,' recalled Mr Lim, who took over as president of the Singapore Badminton Association only last year.

    To be sure, the dream was crafted before the team stepped on court for the three-singles, two-doubles final format yesterday.

    The key was a Singapore win in the doubles as the calculation called for two victories in three singles matches.

    A win in the doubles would help Singapore edge the Thais 3-2. Thus, Singapore lined up the weaker pair of Li Li and Xiao Luxi for the first doubles, hoping that the Thais would go for the straight line-up, pitting their best to play first doubles.

    They complied, and Li Li and Xiao were matched against Thai No 1 Salakjit Ponsana and Saralee Thoungthongkam.

    The tactical sacrifice was imperative as it would have left Jiang and Liu, the top Singapore pair, against the weaker Thai partnership of Kulchala and Duanganong Aroonkesorn in the second doubles.


    Nifty strategy - and luck - aside, yesterday's final was an epic that only the Thais, the region's top all-round sports powerhouses, could guarantee.

    When Li Li, 20, stepped onto the court for the first of five matches, she was expected to win. And win she did, though not easily. Her Thai rival Salakjit took the first game 11-8 and appeared to be heading for an upset when she led 8-4 in the second.

    But with her back against the wall and three points away from defeat, Singapore's Commonwealth Games champion found her stride and refused to yield a single point more.

    She rattled off five points in a row to lead 9-8, before a superb backhand drop shot brought her to game point, and a smash sent the match to the rubber.

    In the process, she broke Salakjit's resistance and stamina. The Thai, who played two long matches in Sunday's semi-finals against Indonesia, was no longer a threat.

    Li Li easily clinched the decider 11-5 in 14 minutes to send Singapore on their way.

    It took 51 minutes, almost twice as long as an average women's singles match but as she remarked, post-match: 'I wasn't prepared to give up. The first point is very important, a morale booster.'

    The Thais levelled the final at 1-1, when second singles Saralee edged out Singapore's Xiao 11-8, 6-11, 11-3 in a ding-dong bout that lasted seven minutes longer than the first singles.

    Said Xiao, 21: 'Her strength pinned me to the back court most of the time and it was tough dealing with both the draught and her smashes.'

    Singapore's lead was clinically restored by Jiang in 15 minutes when she demolished Duanganong 11-1, 11-2 in the third singles.

    So complete was Jiang's domination, she lost her serve only once in the first game.

    Xiao and Li Li came back on court for the first doubles, but were summarily despatched 10-15, 7-15 by Salakjit and Saralee.

    And so it went down to the final match, which Jiang, 22, and Liu, 19, won 15-10, 15-7.

    Said Jiang: 'Tears just flowed. It was a magical moment.'

    That moment was 1.24pm, Vietnam time. That's 2.24 pm in Singapore.
     
    #1 Xu Zhen, Dec 9, 2003
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2003

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