Badminton mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan secure spot in Paris Olympics , Latest Team Singapore News - The New Paper
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Badminton mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan secure spot in Paris Olympics

After a nervy few weeks of waiting, Singapore’s badminton mixed doubles pair Terry Hee and Jessica Tan have finally fulfilled their dream of competing at the Olympics.

The duo’s entry to the July 26–Aug 11 Paris Games was confirmed by the Badminton World Federation on May 27. This makes them Singapore’s first local-born mixed doubles duo to qualify for the Olympics – Indonesia-born Hendri Saputra and China-born Li Yujia were the first from the Republic to feature in the event at Beijing 2008.

Hee, 28, told The Straits Times: “We are very happy because it’s every athlete’s dream to play at the Olympics. Now, that dream is about to be fulfilled... all our effort and sacrifices have paid off and are not wasted.”

Tan, 30, added: “This is an affirmation of all the hard work and dedication we’ve put in, and it proved all the difficulties we have gone through were worth it in the end.”

Their road to Paris was far from straightforward.

Compared to at least 38 entries for the singles events, there are only 16 spots for the doubles competitions at the Olympics.

As top pairs from America, Africa and Oceania receive continental quotas if they are in the world’s top 50, only 13 open slots remained after the year-long qualification period ended on April 28.

Hee and Tan had a nightmare start to their campaign after a winless run on the BWF World Tour for more than four months, losing in the first round in their first seven events.

That sparked a change in their tournament plan as they signed up for lower-tier tournaments in search of more wins, qualifying points and a confidence boost.

It worked a treat as they won the Irish Open, conquered the Guwahati Masters and made the Odisha Masters final at the end of 2023. They reached the semi-final of the top-tier Malaysia Open in January 2024 and “made up a lot of ground” to rise to 12th in the Race to Paris ranking.

However, heartbreak loomed when they were overtaken by Dutch pair Robin Tabeling and Selena Piek and Indonesia’s Rinov Rivaldy and Pitha Mentari who found their own purple patch in March.

Tan, who gave up her university studies in 2011 to play full-time, said: “There was anxiety for sure. When we fell out of the top 13, there were so few tournaments to catch up after that, so the pressure became mountain high and we struggled.”

But they received a lifeline as Australia, who occupied the Oceania continental quotas in four events but are allowed to accept only two, elected to take up the slots in the women’s singles and women’s doubles. This freed up one more mixed doubles spot for the next eligible pair in the rankings, which went to the Singaporeans.

Hee, who admitted to monitoring the rankings almost obsessively at one stage, said: “I don’t believe we were lucky because we put in a lot of work and effort to put ourselves in that position to take up the slot which Australia freed up. It is a journey we will look back at with pride.”

Their Olympic quest has been a true roller-coaster ride for the married couple.

Two years after they began dating, they partnered for the first time and won the 2014 Singapore International. They rose to world No. 15 in 2017, but Hee’s national service commitments and Tan’s shoulder and knee surgeries meant they slipped to 808th in 2018.

They bounced back after they got married in October 2021. Free from disruptions, they have since won six titles, including the historic 2022 Commonwealth Games gold.

There were other challenges, as Hee made the difficult decision to end a promising men’s doubles partnership with Loh Kean Hean at the end of 2022 to focus on the mixed doubles, while Tan’s mother died from illness a few months later.

Tan said: “It was very hard for me to take, and I felt very guilty about not spending more time with her (late mother) because we had to travel a lot for competitions. 

“Then, we kept getting knocked out in the first round, which was a hit to our Olympic dreams, and I was in a very bad place because I felt I dragged us down with my personal issues.”

Squabbles ensued during their slump, and the couple credited national doubles coach Paulus Firman for being “a coach, mentor, mediator and father figure” for them.

Paulus said: “Sometimes scolding is required, but there are times when I give advice and invite them to discuss and find a solution. I also share my experiences with them on how to face and resolve problems, especially since they are both athletes and husband and wife.”

A deadpan Hee then shared how his wife would “bring out a plate of grapes” at home after quarrels, though a smiling Tan refuted this by adding “true story, but in reverse”.

The world No. 18 pair will be looking to savour the fruits of their labour at the Olympics.

Hee said: “Through our fights, we learnt more about ourselves and each other. We have gone through that, and grown in terms of mentality, understanding and individual ability. When two stronger individuals come together, we already make a stronger team.

“We are a better team than ever before, and there are always upsets at the Olympics because the pressure is on the higher-ranked teams not to lose.”

Tan added: “All we have to do is give our best and take this as an opportunity to showcase what we have trained so hard for, and hopefully create a miracle.”

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