All-conquering champions (pic)


The attention has always been on their strokes and smashes, but little else is known of doubles pair Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong off the courts.

KOO Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong are adept at talking about their exploits on court; they can weigh their chances of winning, analyse the matches, and are always appropriately modest about beating more experienced and established world-class players.

Age: 21
Hometown: Ipoh, Perak
Birthdate: Sept 18, 1985
Academic: St Michaels Institution in Ipoh; Bukit Jalil Sports School
Coach: Rexy Mainaky

Their rise has been meteoric; winning four out of the six tournaments they have participated in the past four months. They capped their heady streak of wins by capturing two major titles back-to-back in the last fortnight, bringing back the prestigious All-England doubles crown after a 25-year hiatus, and the Swiss Open title on Sunday.

Kien Keat and Boon Heong have been called hotshots, and hailed as the players of the new badminton era.

All that exhilaration, however, had not quite hit the duo on Monday, as they got ready to make their long journey home from Basel, Switzerland. They were exhausted, and looking forward to returning home.

They were both initially a tad reluctant to talk about their lives off the badminton court. Why would people want to know about us? they asked, but graciously obliged after a few SMS exchanges.

I suffered for two weeks in Europe without Malaysian food. I want to eat lots of things, like curry mee in Ipoh Garden and chao fan, (fried koay teow), said the 21-yearold Kien Keat who was the chattier one. He was witty and quick to rebut, and refreshingly unguarded.

He rattled on light-heartedly, and then asked not to be quoted with a big laugh.

Boon Heong took longer to warm up, especially since he was in transit midway through a tedious 32-hour Basel-London- Dubai-Kuala Lumpur flight home. But he too quickly eased up, and even shared his Friendster ID.

I want to go home and see my grandfather, said 19-year-old Boon Heong, who is very close to his family in Alor Star, Kedah.

They are already recognised on the streets, and have their own league of fans. Kien Keat and Boon Heong are however somewhat uncomfortable with the attention, especially when people stare at them.

Its not good. Now I cannot do cheeky things anymore, Kien Keat joked.

Boon Heong also has to rein in his naughtiness, but not too much.

I was never studious, and was very naughty when I was younger. Im still naughty now, but things are different, he said.

Boon Heongs father, Tan Yoon Meng, said that his youngest son was a mischievous boy, but he was always serious about badminton especially when he started winning competitions.

When he was 11 or 12, he told us that one day wed watch him play badminton on television. Of course, we laughed at him then, said Tan.

The boys started attending sports school in Bukit Jalil in their teens, but the road to becoming a badminton superstar was a tough one. The training was rigorous, and they led regimented and disciplined lives.

When they were in the junior team, Kien Keat told me all lights must be turned off by 10pm. Even now, he will not go for dinner with us during the weekdays, as hed be too tired from the training.

Age: 19
Hometown: Alor Star, Kedah
Birthdate: Sept 18, 1987
Academic: SMK La Salle
Petaling Jaya; Bukit Jalil Sports School
Coach: Rexy Mainaky
# Boon Heong was named Sportsboy of the Year in 2005

But the discipline is good for him, said Kien Keats mother, Tan Pow Chean who waits for her sons call after every match.

Her youngest son looked nothing like the lanky lad with dyed stylish hair and ear stud when he was a child, said Tan.

I was very short and wore spectacles, all my friends will tell you that. I never imagined that I would be so tall.

Actually I never thought of dyeing my hair. I went for a haircut and my hairstylist suggested that I do it so I said Okay lah, recalled Kien Keat, who was just as nonchalant about shaving his head bald to fulfil the vow he made before winning the All- England.

Despite his flamboyant appearance, Tan said her son is more of an introvert at home.

He is more outgoing now after he joined the badminton squad. He has even picked up other Chinese dialects like Hokkien. We find out things about him from the newspaper, she said, and laughed when asked if her son is dating anyone. You ask him, was her reply.

Kien Keat was just as reticent with us, Why do you need to know? Sensitive lah, he said.

As for Boon Heong, he said: If I tell you, everyone will read this right? I have friends but no girlfriend.

Although their partnership has been such a hit, the duo said they are not inseparable off the courts.

We are not best friends, but on the court, we are. Without him, therell be no me. So we talk a lot on the court but we live our own lives, said Kien Keat who shares the same birthday as Boon Heong on Sept 18.

Tan Boon Heong (left) and Koo Kien Keats All-England win has breathed hope and excitement for badminton in Malaysia.

In many ways, they are like their peers. During the weekends, they like to hang out with friends. But they are not movie buffs.

I fall asleep at the movies. I can stay awake through action films or comedies, though, said Kien Keat.

For now, it is badminton that takes precedence in their lives, and both are determined to remain focused and grounded. Boon Heong attributed their successful pairing to all-rounder playing and great cooperation.

Maybe because we are young, or perhaps we have sat hei (aura of doom), joked Kien Kiat, who was also quick to add that they are not superstars.

Boon Heong, the youngest member of the national badminton squad, said he expects his coaches, teammates, family and friends to knock some sense into him if he ever grows arrogant. He is also determined to not let pressure get to him. They have seen how hard their seniors work to do well, and know the responsibilities they shoulder.

For now, they are determined to win the Asian Badminton Championships and the World Championships.

It is too early for them to contemplate their lives beyond their badminton careers, but Kien Keat said hed like to continue his studies.

If, just if, I can plan around the tight schedules, I want to take up part-time studies. I dont know what I want to study, whatevers easy to get a certificate, I guess, said Kien Keat, roaring with laughter.

(source: The Star Online)


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