Olympics: Singapore's Loh Kean Yew pledges to fight as he eyes top 3
Singapore shuttler sets a high target for himself in his debut at the Tokyo Olympic Games
He may be making his maiden Olympic appearance at Tokyo 2020, but Singapore shuttler Loh Kean Yew wants to make it a debut to remember.
While preparations may have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 24-year-old is eyeing a podium finish at the Games, something which has never been achieved in Singapore badminton history.
"Covid or not, my goals remain consistent. While I may not be one of the favourites at the Olympic Games, my goal at the event is to do my very best and look to win a medal," Loh said in a recent interview.
The furthest that the Republic's shuttlers have reached is the quarter-finals - Ronald Susilo did so at Athens 2004, while the women's doubles pair of Jiang Yanmei and Li Yujia repeated the feat at Beijing 2008.
It was also at the Beijing Games that China's Lin Dan and Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei stamped their dominance on the Olympic stage, a theme that continued at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
The duo have since retired, but there is still a stellar cast in the men's singles event in Tokyo, with the likes of Japan's world No. 1 Kento Momota, China's defending champion Chen Long and Danish giant Viktor Axelsen in the mix.
To achieve his aim, Loh, who is ranked world No. 42, will need to repeat his giant-slaying heroics from the last two years.
Besides his 2019 Thailand Masters victory over Lin Dan, which catapulted him to fame, Loh also showed good form last year, before the Covid-19 pandemic forced competitions to be cancelled or postponed.
At the Badminton Asia Team Championships, he stunned then world No. 2 Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan. At the Indonesian Masters, Loh also defeated Japan's Kanta Tsuneyama, who was ranked world No. 10 then.
To reach Tokyo 2020's round of 16, Loh must emerge as the winner from Group G, which also contains Indonesia's world No. 7 Jonatan Christie and 172nd-ranked refugee athlete Aram Mahmoud, a Syrian who plays under the Dutch flag.
When asked about facing Asian Games champion Jonatan, who beat him 13-21, 21-10, 21-16 at the Yonex Thailand Open in January, Loh said: "I would say it's a good draw.
"I last played him at the Thailand Open in January so at least it's someone that I played recently, and I can gauge his standards better compared to those whom I have not met before or for a long time.
"In any case, every game at the Olympics is important. I will go into the tournament giving it my best and fight all the way."
Also hoping to do Singapore proud at Tokyo's Musashino Forest Sport Plaza is Yeo Jia Min, who is world No. 30 in the women's singles rankings.
The 22-year-old is in Group K with South Korean Kim Ga-eun (world No. 18) and Mexican Haramara Gaitan (92nd).
Though the pandemic had initially cast doubt on whether the Olympics would carry on, Loh and Yeo, who are both alumni of the Singapore Sports School, had continued to train and prepare hard.
"This is my first Olympics. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to represent Singapore and do my best," said Loh.
"Of course, it would be a different kind of Olympic Games with Covid, but I guess we will have to just roll with it and do our best to keep ourselves safe."