Loh Kean Yew gunning for men's singles gold at SEA Games in May
After clinching a silver medal at the 2019 SEA Games, Loh Kean Yew wants to do one better and win a gold at this year's edition of the competition, which will be held in Hanoi from May 12-23.
The last time Singapore won the SEA Games men's singles title was in 1983, when Wong Shoon Keat accomplished the feat.
At the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, Loh became the first national shuttler to make it to the men's final since 2007, but lost to Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia.
The 24-year-old said: "I'm definitely aiming for gold because I've never gotten a gold before so that's definitely the target.
"It's been a long time since Singapore got a gold at the SEA Games (in the men's singles) so it would mean a lot for me and for Singapore."
Loh was speaking after an appreciation ceremony organised by the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) on Friday (April 15) at the OCBC Arena to thank Neo Garden for its donation package worth $300,000 that will go towards the enhancement of SBA's high-performance programmes.
The SBA's high-performance programme covers things such as overseas training stints and competitions, as well as the development of players on all levels.
The association also plans to bring in sparring partners from countries such as Indonesia as part of preparations for this year's major Games.
The months leading up to the SEA Games have been a learning process for Loh, who has been learning to deal with the pressure that comes along with his status as the badminton world champion.
But he sees this as an opportunity to improve, saying: "It's difficult in the sense that because everyone's analysing (my game) so I need to improvise my game to be better. So it's a good thing for me, it's also a good thing for me to be better.
"The pressure is always going to be there. It won't go away, it's more about how I handle it. I think it's better but I'm still learning to cope with it so hopefully I'll become better and better."
Apart from the SEA Games, the national shuttlers will also be involved in the July 28-Aug 8 Commonwealth Games and September's Asian Games this year.
SBA chief executive Alan Ow said: "In terms of sports sponsorship and donation in Singapore, we are not exactly in a very mature state so for companies to step forward, especially during this pandemic period.
"We are glad that we can have Neo Garden on board to help with the development of players, especially during this period when we are two years away from the Olympics, so we want to give our athletes every possible opportunity for a podium finish and having sufficient training and competitions will be critical."
Ahead of the SEA Games, SBA technical director Martin Andrew shared that the target for the national shuttlers in Hanoi was to win a medal in the men's and women's team events.
At the 2019 Games in the Philippines, both the men's and women's teams clinched bronze medals.
Andrew added that their best possibilities for medals in the individual events would come in the men's, women's and mixed doubles events.
The final leg of preparations for the SEA Games will see the national shuttlers competing at various competitions such as the April 26-May 1 Badminton Asia Championships and May 8-15 Thomas Cup, where they have been grouped alongside defending champions and record 14-time winners Indonesia, South Korea and hosts Thailand.
Andrew said: "The boys have the Thomas Cup while the girls will stay here to train - for the boys it's a good opportunity to get good matches and opposition and we're in a tough group so that's even better.
"The girls will have a very solid training here where they can really focus and get themselves more prepared. Everything's been done so that they can get performances at the SEA Games."
National shuttler Andy Kwek believes that the upcoming competitions will be beneficial for the shuttlers' preparations for the SEA Games.
"We are taking it one step at a time to focus on each tournament before the SEA Games and hopefully through each tournament leading up to the SEA Games, we can gain more exposure and experience to know what we are lacking and work on it," said the 22-year-old, who will be competing in the men's doubles and mixed doubles events.
"If we were to get a medal, it would be great - not just for us but for Singapore badminton as well. But we're not thinking too much, we just want to enjoy the process, the match and strategise well so whatever conditions that may come, we'll be ready for it."