Cheers for Loh Kean Yew as he returns to alma mater Singapore Sports School, Latest Team Singapore News - The New Paper
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Cheers for Loh Kean Yew as he returns to alma mater Singapore Sports School

Loh Kean Yew remembers sitting among his classmates at the Singapore Sports School's (SSP) hall years ago, listening intently to a talk by Malaysia's former world No. 1 badminton player Lee Chong Wei.

On Wednesday (Dec 29), Loh was back in that hall again, but this time as a newly crowned world champion on the stage, sharing his journey with a similar hope of inspiring the next generation of athletes.

After a busy 10 days of press interviews, activities and even a bus parade, the 24-year-old returned to his alma mater for a homecoming event organised to celebrate his historic win at the World Championships in Huelva, Spain.

Fellow national shuttler Yeo Jia Min, who became the first Singaporean to qualify for December's Badminton World Federation World Tour Finals, was also invited to the event.

Loh, who attended the SSP from 2010 to 2013, was warmly received by the school's students and staff, who cheered upon his arrival at the campus in Woodlands.

In his engagement session with student-athletes, he said: "I listened to how he (Lee) talked and he inspired me to play well in the SEA Games. I was once like you and you could also be here next time.

"I came back because I wanted to share with my juniors my experiences and hope that you guys can become a better player and person.

"Everyone has different talents, once you know what you want to do, go for it. It's okay to fail because you can only learn when you fail. After you win, try to learn things in a different way. Always accept what others say, give gratitude and be appreciative."

During the session, world No. 15 Loh answered questions from student-athletes ranging from his experience at the SSP, his achievements in the past months and dealing with the pressure of being the world champion.

While he admitted to being nervous initially, it did not take long before the affable Loh eased into his role and cracked jokes while answering questions.

But life was not always smooth-sailing at the SSP for Penang-born Loh - who enrolled in the SSP in 2010 after securing a scholarship - as he missed his friends in Malaysia and struggled to adapt to a new environment.

He said: "At the start, I didn't really have any friends and was homesick. I tried my best to tahan for quite a while until I called my mum and cried to her. After letting it out, it was much better.

"During that period, I was glad my friends didn't judge me for my accent and they allowed me to fit in well. The staff also took care of me."

The SSP was a springboard to success on the badminton court, as he climbed the ranks in the national team and won a bronze at the 2015 SEA Games.

In recent months, Loh has enjoyed a fantastic run that has seen him claim the Dutch Open and Hylo Open titles, before winning the world title.

En route to these achievements, he beat top-ranked shuttlers such as Denmark's world No. 1 and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen, world No. 3 Anders Antonsen and Japan's then world No. 1 Kento Momota.

But his most memorable victory was in 2019, when he beat Chinese badminton great Lin Dan.

"He's been my idol, I watched him and Chong Wei play since young," he said. "I'd failed against Chong Wei because I showed too much respect and didn't really give my best.

"Before I played Lin Dan, someone told me to give my best and not hold back, which was why I was able to give my all."

Loh also dropped by the badminton academy's training session, where he signed autographs and took pictures with the student-athletes. He is headed to a training camp in Dubai this weekend, before competing in the India Open in January.

Junior badminton players queueing for an autograph session with Loh Kean Yew at the Singapore Sports School on Dec 29, 2021.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SSP shuttler Sabrina Lee, who moderated the engagement segment with doubles partner Alexis Lee, said: "It was a really great session to celebrate with him and get to know him better as a person through his sharing.

"He also shared the importance of humility and gratitude, which he clearly exemplified through his words and every little action."

SSP principal Ong Kim Soon said: "I hope all of us here will learn from Kean Yew, not just about celebrating the championship title but the character that came with it.

"You've inspired not just young shuttlers from Sports School and all over the island, but also (those from other) sports in Singapore. Your desire to show the world what a small nation like Singapore can do has lifted the dreams of many."