Dr Oon Chong Teik:
Shuttlecock and Stethoscope
Oon Chong Teik joined the V.I. from Batu Road School in 1948 and left in September 1954. He considered his time at the V.I. a good learning curve for life for he was a very unpredictable student academically. He could do extremely very well in his exams at times; then do so badly that the Headmaster, Mr F. Daniel, once asked him to leave school! Chong Teik's interests at the V.I. were mainly sporting. He was a middle distance athlete, good enough to be called on to represent Hepponstall House. He even competed in the Selangor Schools sports, winning the under-15 440 yards event with a time of 58 seconds.
But his main love was badminton, not least of all because his father was a vice-president of the Selangor Badminton Association and his uncle was none other than the legendary Wong Peng Soon. He represented the V.I. in that sport, winning the 1951 Boys Open Doubles and the 1952 Boys Singles, and captaining the school team. Beyond the school hall other triumphs were also notched, beginning with his capture of the Selangor Schools Singles and Doubles number one titles. In 1953, Chong Teik's expanding badminton prowess brought him, with partner Jennie Lim, the Coronation Mixed Doubles title and the Selangor Junior Doubles title shared with Lai Fook Ying, who was the best non-V.I. player at that time. That same year, at age 16, matched against boys much older than himself, he won the inaugural Malayan schoolboys singles championship.
He scraped through his Senior Cambridge exam with a Grade 2, scoring credits in eight subjects but failing badly in Latin (getting almost zero marks) as he never had the interest nor time to study it because of his badminton. This failure was to change his life when he left the V.I. in late 1954 for his A levels at the Perse Boys School in England, where Latin or Greek was needed at that time for university entrance. Chong Teik found, to his horror, that the Latin (and other subjects as well) was of such a high standard that he found it necessary to change his study habits. He learned to be very organized and to work extremely hard and to cut his leisure time to a minimum. Still he found time to play his beloved badminton and to take up boxing, clinching his school's senior boxing championship title for the 9 - 9½ stone category. Chong Teik even found time for lawn tennis, representing Perse Boys in singles and doubles. (If all this was achieved during minimal leisure time, what would he have achieved if he had had all the time?) At any rate, the ultimate reward soon came: Chong Teik passed his A levels exams and proceeded to Downing College, Cambridge University, to read medicine and, subsequently, to do his clinicals at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London.
In Europe, his badminton career took off, with Chong Teik playing during vacations and weekends and teaming up with fellow Malayans, Eddie Choong and David Choong, who were All-England champions at that time. He won the British Universities Singles and Men's Doubles many times and captained the Cambridge University squad leading them to victory over rivals Oxford University. He won the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch, Belgium, French, East German national titles, and many county titles in Great Britain as well.
In 1958, after doing well in the World Invitation championship in Glasgow, Chong Teik was invited to join the Malayan Thomas Cup Squad to defend the Thomas Cup which Malaya had held since 1949. The finals were played at the Singapore Badminton Hall. Because of parochial politics, Chong Teik - then ranked the number one Malayan singles player - was not selected for the line-up against the Indonesians who clobbered the Malayans 6-3 to carry away the symbol of world badminton supremacy. Back in England, Chong Teik reached the All-England men’s singles and men’s doubles semi-finals on two occasions, in 1960 and 1962, but the grand prize eluded him. He gave up trying for the title as he was then in his final year in medical school.
Still, his last All-England attempt in 1962 turned out to be a revenge of sorts for his being passed over for the 1958 Thomas Cup defence. Unseeded, Chong Teik was drawn against first seed Tan Joe Hock, the Indonesian maestro who had demolished the Malayan Thomas Cuppers Eddie Choong and Teh Kew San four years earlier, and who had been expected to meet Erland Kops in the All-England finals. Chong Teik spoilt his plans by dispatching Joe Hock in three sets. The All-England crowd gave a standing ovation for this giant killer.
In 1963, as Malaysian delegate to the International Badminton Federation, he helped to legalise the wood shot ruling after a hard battle against the western nations. (Previously, any stroke hit on the frame of the racket was a fault). The rule still stands till today. Chong Teik worked ten years in England and passed his higher degree in Internal Medicine and Tropical Diseases. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, as well as Australia. At present Chong Teik practises at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, Singapore, as a specialist in these two fields. He has written papers on malaria, scrub typhus, rabies in the local journals and recently for the World Health Organisation in the management of dengue fever. He is also Singapore secretary to the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
The sportsman in him keeps Chong Teik going. He is a former Vice-President of the Singapore Badminton Association. Wielding a different kind of racket, he was a Grade B squash player as well. He has run 13 marathons in all, with a best time of 3 hours 53 mins. He was medical director of the Mobil International Marathon and for the Singapore International Triathlon, advising athletes in training diet and fluid requirements. Chong Teik was also the top senior men’s triathlete in Singapore till 1992.
Chong Teik has two sons, Zhi Hao and Zhi Hong. Both play badminton and captained their public school in England (Kings Canterbury). Zhi Hong was a Singapore ex-national badminton trainee, and is now in the Singapore Triathlon Squad. Both have completed their national service with the Singapore Armed Forces. Zhi Hao was a sergeant in military intelligence, now reading medicine in Chong Teik's old teaching hospital at St Bartholomew's. Zhi Hong was an officer and instructor in jungle survival, and is now reading Integrative Medicine in Salford, England.
Below Chong Teik recalls his VI days, his badminton career, his famous Uncle Wong Peng Soon and other badminton personalities from the days when Malaya truly ruled the badminton world:
My V.I. Days
y father, Oon Khye Beng, studied at the Penang Free School where he won a Queen's Scholarship and went to Cambridge University to read Engineering at Downing College. This was the same college where all his three sons were to go to later to read medicine and where all three also became Cambridge Badminton Captains. There, I reached the semi-finals for mens singles, and mens doubles twice, while Chong Jin got to the finals of the mens doubles once and the quarter finals for mens singles. Chong Hau, my youngest brother, got to the mens singles semi-finals once. My father wasn't a great sportsman, he was a social badminton player, and represented his college in hockey. Incidentally, a few months ago I met a very distinguished old Victorian Chief Justice Yong Pung How, at our Downing College reunion in Singapore. We had lived along the same road, Ampang Road, in the old days. I was very surprised when Justice Yong said he remembered me! He also remembered my father very well, my father was his first client. I was especially very relieved to hear the Chief Justice say "... and he paid me too"! My father was very loyal to his old College, and gave him support! My mother studied only till Senior Cambridge as in her family further education was the priority of the sons.
Being the son of a Queen's Scholar at V.I. was a difficult burden for me to carry at that time, looking at it now I was a late developer! I think I am still developing as most of my peers in my time have now retired. Many of the V.I. teachers knew about my father, and I was on the receiving end of it in class with my inconsistent academic record. I was harassed by teachers like Mr Yap Swee Kee, and Mr S. Murugesu. Most of it was verbal, but there were a lot of knocks from Swee Kee which I took without flinching. He did not know I had a high pain threshold!! I know he meant well, and understood his frustration with a very, very slow student. I do not bear any ill-feelings, and he helped me later to understand and develop patience and compassion to others who are not able to comprehend things which we happen to know. When I did very badly in the Standard Five final exams, Mr F. Daniel wanted to expel me. My father appealed to him to give me a chance and to retain me for another year. He undertook to ensure that I studied that following year. Of course, my father was not happy with me for obvious reasons!
My Famous Uncle
The first time I heard of my uncle Peng Soon was from my parents. He was my mother's cousin whom he always called Peu Chay. My father, who was then the Vice-President of the Selangor Badminton Association, was a very keen follower of badminton. He wanted us to excel in the sport as he felt badminton was more suited to the Asian physique. I was not to meet Peng Soon till the age of 12 when he returned from England with the victorious Malayan Thomas Cup team in 1949. The team was fêted the length and breadth of Malaya in the major towns. Never had I seen such hysteria over the matches played in faraway England. In Kuala Lumpur where I lived, every household had its radio on full blast. As one drove by each house, one could hear the radio commentary blaring through the window. (Cars did not have radios in those days.) Crowds five to six deep packed the route hours before the team was due to pass in their open cars from Seremban. When they passed, the K.L. Roar could be heard for miles. At that time everyone just talked about nothing but badminton. Courts sprang up in back gardens and people played on pavements in the streets, in parks - anywhere. This was the beginning of the Malayan badminton boom. Never before had such a small badminton nation conquered the world.
My K.L. home had two lighted outdoor courts and was the headquarters of the Thundering Smashers Badminton Team! I think it was given that name because our players had very powerful smashes! My father was an enthusiastic sponsor of the team which was composed mainly of our V.I. boys. We played against the senior clubs but our performance, though good, could not match the Selangor senior players. The Team did not last long, only a season or two, and was disbanded when I left School.
The Other Thomas Cuppers
Our Thomas Cup Team members were national heroes. Ong Poh Lim, one of our singles players, stood out for being the most unorthodox, with a peculiar "crocodile service" which made the whole hall burst into laughter. Poh Lim partnered Ooi Teik Hock to win the All England Doubles titles in their time. He and I were in the 1958 Thomas Cup squad but we were both not selected to meet the Indonesian challenges in the finals. That was when Malaya lost the Thomas Cup which it had held for nine years. Poh Lim worked with Fraser & Neave delivering soft drinks. In later years, whenever I met Poh Lim, I could see that he had not got over his 1958 omission and replacement by Johnny Heah Hock Aun. Every time he would say to me, "Chong Teik, if you and I had played, we would have won the Thomas Cup!!" The Singapore B.A. had not cared much for Poh Lim in his old age, except the occasional invite to tournaments, and into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, Ong Poh Lim passed away recently. He had lived alone like a hermit, in a very untidy and unkept house in Siglap, Sennett Estate. He was found on the floor after neighbours discovered food, newspapers were not brought in, and numerous phone calls were unanswered. Only a handful of people attended his funeral. Poh Lin had been forgotten.
There, of course, is Old Victorian, Yeoh Teck Chye. I did not know him well but we played together in the same Foong Seong Cup team. He was very stylish and deboniar, always composed. He chewed gum and his hands were always brushing his hair backwards to keep it in place. He was a prewar V.I. champion, and I was present during those matches he played in the V.I. Hall during the Malayan Badminton Championships in the late forties. In later years I managed to beat him in the singles, but he was by then past his best. He had a brother, Cheng Bok, who was a classmate of mine but he was not as good as Teck Chye. Teck Chye was a very, very good doubles player and very stout in defence. Unfortunately, like most players at that time he lacked fitness. Talking of which, I had the advantage, when I was in Cambridge University, of training with the University rugger team, which was of international standard, at Fenners, as well as with Herb Elliott, the world record sub-four minute miler at that time, and learned their weight and circuit training techniques.
Ooi Teik Hock also deserves mention for being the stout-hearted and always dependable fighter. But it was to Wong Peng Soon that the accolades belong - for his artistry, footwork and stroke play. He just made it look so simple. That was why I chose Peng Soon to be my mentor and guiding light. Whenever he was in Kuala Lumpur, he always stayed in our home and never failed to give me a game. Before a big event, for example, the Malayan Open, he would stay with my family for a month to train. It was during these formative years of mine, from 12 to 17, that I learnt a great deal by just watching and following what he did. Peng Soon was a man of few words but I remember him chiding me, "Why do you want to play so fast? Take your time. Don't hurry. Get into position. “Don't jump so much - only monkeys jump!”
As a young boy I was intrigued watching him skip on the badminton court in our home. He skipped fast and long and it looked so boring. He never answered me when I asked, “Uncle Peng Soon, when are you going to stop?” He just ignored the pesky little boy and continued skipping effortlessly and without tripping. Getting tired of watching him, I decided to join him skipping. He would smile when he saw the rope tripping me up endlessly or when he noticed my agonised look as my arms started to ache. This torture, which I mastered after a few months of perseverance, was to stand me in good stead in my badminton career later on.
My First Big Title
Under Peng Soon's tutelage I became, in 1953 at the age of 16, the first winner of the Malayan Schoolboys Singles Championship, beating the favourite, Ong Eng Hong, 8-15, 15-10, 15-4 in the finals in Kuala Lumpur. The challenge trophy presented by the British High Commissioner for Southeast Asia, Sir Malcolm Macdonald was the largest I had ever seen. Eng Hong was from the MBS and we were great rivals in those days. He had the edge on me in the school matches. He was a big and strong player with a very powerful smash. Our matches usually lasted an hour and a half, and were very exciting. In the end when it was over, Eng Hong would be stretched out on our school stage all cramped out, with his friends furiously massaging him. In the Malayan Schoolboys Championship encounter, I played a defensive first set and though I made several attempts to take it, Eng Hong smashed his way to victory. Eng Hong's determined attempt to win the second set and the game was nipped time and again and I managed to force a rubber. The third set saw Eng Hong tiring, with his smashes flying wide time and again. I had the upper hand throughout and took the set with the loss of only 4 points, and with it the Championship. Eng Hong later went on to be the Australian Men's Singles champion. When I returned to Singapore in 1973, he was working here and we remained very good friends. He still could not get over his loss to me. We met in friendly singles matches many times, but he still could not beat me even though both of us were past our best!
The following year, 1954, Peng Soon advised me not to defend the Malayan Schoolboys Singles title, but to play in the Malayan Men's Singles Open in Penang where I was to have a titanic quarter-finals three-set battle with Ooi Teik Hock, the bottom seed, before losing to him. Teik Hock later lost to Peng Soon in the finals. With this tournament I entered the men's world of badminton and did my mentor proud to become the Selangor Number One. The curtain had now come down on the local scene for me and new badminton adventures awaited me across the ocean. In September 1954 I left Malaya with my brother, Chong Jin, for further studies in England.
Badminton in Britain
We started life at the Perse Boys boarding school on arrival. Things were so very different from home! We slept in domitories with 16 boys to a room. All the windows were open at night, and a glass of water would freeze by your bedside! We had to cycle to school which was about 5 kms away and then return for lunch. After that, back to school again, in all 20 kms a day in the freezing cold. We also had to wear our school cap which was black, purple and white in colour, as well as our school blazer of similar colour. We could be seen for miles around!! Food took some getting used to - baked beans on toast, steam pudding, stringy bacon, smoked herring and so on. I found the academic work there very difficult. Taking the Cambridge local syndicate exam at V.I. was a breeze. Here they took the toughest - the Conjoint Board Oxford and Cambridge - which was very much harder. For the morning physical exercise, the class was taken by a teacher who was a physical instructor in the navy. We had to do our P.E. outdoors in winter clad only in shorts and without shirts! Twice a week we had to run 6 kms into the lovely countryside, which included the hills on the outskirts of Cambridge called Gog Magog. It was either running or playing rugger and getting crushed by boys twice your size. We had to run fast as the slower ones ended with having cold showers in winter.!
We still managed to play badminton once a week with the Cambridge University Badminton Club. We were better than the undergraduates and even beat them in friendly matches. This was useful as it made our entry into Cambridge University easier after our A-levels for Cambridge needed to keep their unbeaten record of not having lost to Oxford since 1929! My first tournament was during our half term in November, 1954. I went up to play the South of Scotland tournament at Dumfries. I was an unknown in the British badminton scene at that time. I did not have much training and, together with boarding school food, it was not the best way to compete in a tournament!
I had been told by many who were not familiar with British badminton, that the British players were "lousy players." What a shock the truth turned out to be! I managed to get to the finals and met Alistair Russel, the Scottish champion, in their freezing drill hall. I beat him 7-15, 15-6, 15-10, in three hard fought sets. After that encounter, I had a lot of respect for the British players from then on and always warned our new Malayan boys that the Brits were a lot better than we thought they were and they should not be under-estimated. They may not have as many strokes as we have, but they can certainly return every shuttle that crosses the net. The shuttlecock in the cold travels a lot slower, and it is hard to kill it. In that same tournament, Chong Jin partnered me in the doubles but we lost to the Scottish internationals, J.C. Mackay and Donald Ross, 6-15, 15-4, 16-18 in the finals. It was not a bad performance as Chong Jin was only 15 years old then and he was the "homing pigeon"!
While at the Perse school I took part in most of the activities. I had learnt boxing in Kuala Lumpur, a sport not known to many people in K.L. I trained under a well-known bantamweight Filipino fighter by the unlikely name of Kid Arenas. He was of world class standard and had fought for the world title at Madison Square Gardens in America in his prime. At the Perse school I studied very hard day and night as I had an extra subject in Latin to do, besides Physics Chemistry and Biology. Holidays were no holidays for me, it was catch up time! Eventually I knew my Latin so well that by exam time, I knew the Virgil Aeneid forward and backwards, and could probably carry on a conversation in the Vatican, a far cry from the mute at V.I.! Badminton was kept to a minimum of once a week with the university team, together with Chong Jin.
Teaming up with Eddie Choong
After I cleared my qualifying medical exams in 1956 and obtained entry to Downing College, Cambridge University, I had a full season of playing badminton in 1956-57. I went down to London, lived at Wimbledon in lodgings, not too far from the Wimbledon Squash and Badminton Club where I became a member for the next 25 years. Here I teamed up with the great Eddy Choong, his brother David, and many other Malayan and Singapore players of fairly good standard. The Choong brothers were from the Penang Free School, and were All-England champions at that time. I remember Eddy very well, as I often went to Penang on holidays and saw him playing rugger - he was a very fast winger. He must have played against the V.I. at some time. From him I learnt a lot about the badminton circuit in Europe. Eddy came from a very rich family and spent all his time playing badminton. He studied law, but only completed half the course. I arrived on the scene at a very opportune time and became Eddie's chief sparing partner. I also played with him in some of the tournaments and exhibition matches in the U.K. as well as in Europe. Johnny Heah was also around and studied architecture; so was his brother, Hock Heng, and Eddy's cousin, Robert Choong. Dickie Lee and Seow Watt Soon from Singapore made up this formidable line-up of Malayan and Singapore players on the circuit.
Eddy Choong was in his prime at that time. After losing the All-England trophy to Peng Soon in 1955, he won it again on two more occasions to take the trophy home for good. Eddy had been so very confident of beating Peng Soon in 1955 that he apparently filmed the whole match. [If he, in fact, still has that film, it would be very good historical document for badminton, as I am not able to get one of Peng Soon playing to show the youngsters of today how badminton should not be played, like it is today!! I hear TV Malaysia has some of Peng Soon's matches in their archives.] It was very good experience playing with Eddy. Just out of school, I needed a lot of toughening up, and being his chief sparring partner, I benefited.
His game was very simple, just lob and drop. But his lob was very, very high and accurate and to the baseline. His drops were not deceptive and he had non-existent net play. If you played net, he would clear it to the baseline again. Eddy was like a rubber ball, very fast and agile, he was able to retrieve all shots even if he had to scramble or dive for it. He won when you made the mistakes. I found him a very easy player to play, as he had "no strokes." I controlled him, he ran all over the place till I made the errors! My courtcraft and strokes were superior, except Eddy's concentration was much better and error rate much less than mine. Eddy always dreaded playing Finn Kobbero - he was like his nemesis! He only got through on sheer grit and by the skin of his teeth. Finn was such a superb stroke player and with the most deceptive shots. He was a player who could score a point with one stroke and was also capable of donating it to you with the most unforced of errors. Eddy spent most of his time on his knees and horizontally kissing the floor. Finn always teased Eddy after the match - "very, very lucky, ah!!" This Danish player had such an impact on him that Eddy Choong named his son Finn Choong !! I am sure he dreamt of and had nightmares of him, too!!
On to Europe
Having Eddy Choong around was a great help for a novice in a foreign country. I learnt a lot about the badminton scene. He was very respected and admired by the locals as he was the All-England singles and doubles champion at that time. He played with his brother David who was a fair singles player and a very good tactician, especially in the doubles. He graduated later as a lawyer. Every year a badminton fixture list is published of all tournaments in the UK, and also of the major national tournaments in Europe. That year there was a lot of travel. We played exhibition matches in many parts of England, and even in Karlsruhe, a German university town, and in Frankfurt during the Oktoberfest, the annual beer drinking affair. My first big tournament was in the Dutch Championships in Amsterdam that year. My achievement there was beating Ferry Sonneville, who was studying there at that time. Eddy and myself won the mens doubles and he, the singles, with myself losing to him. My win over Ferry Sonneville was very important as, from then on, he always respected me.
Other national tournaments followed, usually with the same results between Eddy and myself, namely, he would win the singles, I would become runner-up and we would jointly snare the doubles. We also played the Scottish Open in Edinburgh. When we arrived in Londonderry in February 1955 for the 44th All-Ireland Open, a bridge was blown up by the IRA just after we had crossed it! It was the start of the sectarian hostilities in Ireland. The Derry audience was one of the best in the world being, fair, keen and appreciative. There, too, I found that I was catching up on Eddy - although he won in two straight sets, he was all over the floor. I knew then he was within my sights as I became fitter and stronger. It was a pity our contest did not go to three sets. Playing in Europe was not easy, it was extremely cold and the halls were not heated. Eddy was lucky to be invited to these places but I had to pay my own way as I had to make a name on the circuit. For accommodation we were put up with badminton families. As such, one had to eat whatever they served without complaining. One family served me cold chicken, cheese, cold vegetable salad and salami after a hard match. It certainly took getting used to!
I also won many county titles that year. Playing in Europe is not easy as at home. There are tournaments every weekend, and they all last only two days. You can choose which ones you want to go to. Players tend to avoid going to tournaments where the better ones go to. As for me, I chose the tougher ones in order to make a name on the circuit. Most players play three events; the most I played was 33 sets a day! Play often goes on till the wee hours of the morning, with not much rest, food, drink or respite from the cold. The next day if you survive, it starts all over again at 8 a.m. We travelled by train or shared a car. I used to go along with Bill Holwill, who was the agent for RSL shuttlecocks. He brought the shuttlecocks to the tournament, and so I usually managed to get a lift from him. Bill was quite familiar with our Asian players as he had entertained most of the Malayan players in the past, and he could swear quite well in Hokkien, too!!
Life at Cambridge
Besides my studies at post-graduate level, the undergraduate part at Cambridge was the most gruelling, probably much worse than training for badminton! Its curriculum compared to today’s was so much longer. I had to study so much more details and irrelevance in between trying to play badminton for the university. It did not help that my fellow medical colleagues were of the highest calibre most were state scholars, exhibitioners or college scholars! Finding time to train was very difficult as we had lectures, human anatomy dissection, lots of supervisions, essays to write, and practical work. I had to dash down at mid day on my bicycle to the gymnasium at Fenners where the university athletes trained and do a quick circuit training for half an hour after the morning lecture and then rush back to the laboratory by 2 p.m. Studying with the élite really stretched me as I was burning the candle at both ends! All these scholars appeared so nonchalant, casual and gave the appearance they did not study and yet knew their work so well.
Mr Daniel, the V.I. Headmaster was right - I was indeed a labourer now all right, but in a different way - physical and mental! Badminton was played at Portugal Place in a huge old dungeon with high ceilings; the walls were black, with no heating. This court was also used for rackets and pelotta. University practice was once a week on Thursdays, with matches on weekends where we might have to travel. I looked forward to these matches as we met very interesting people and had tea and cakes afterwards. The University team was very mixed - Indians, Malayans, Englishmen and a Ceylonese - and the standard very high. Training in freezing Cambridge needed lots and lots of motivation. When I finished my studies in the evening at about 10 p.m. or if I had enough, I would go out into the freezing cold in a pair of shorts and a windcheater and do a fast 5 to 6 km run with frost on the ground! On my return I would have a light supper and then hit the deck and waken at about 6:30 a.m. to revise and go to the dining room for breakfast when the clock on the Christian church facing the college struck eight.
Academic work was tough. Relief always came when we attended functions given by the Malayan and Chinese societies where we had some Chinese food cooked by the students or local Chinese families who lived in Cambridge. I captained the University badminton team in my second year and was responsible for training the first and second teams. For distraction we had fun badminton matches held annually in Oxford Abingdon. The changing room was in the hull of an old Beaufort bomber. The organizer was Judy Hashman who was the world champion then. Good badminton players were punished by handicaps like playing with the left hand, wearing an eye patch, doing alternate shots underleg or playing with a tennis, squash or a warped racket. Some had to wear earplugs in both ears. This being a fun tournament, the players brought their own prizes to be distributed.
Tours were also organized to Germany and Sweden to play friendly matches. It was very satisfying when I can relate to my European patients today, that I have been to their town, city and country. In December 1958, while playing in Hanover, our Cambridge badminton players were invited to the local television studio to meet the German heart throb of the day, Hardy Kruger. Prior to that we had a lot of publicity in the news as a very strong team and had won all our matches. Kruger was typically Teutonic, young, tall, blonde, very good looking with crystal blue eyes, somewhat the equivalent of Tom Cruise or Leonardo di Caprio today. Kruger had made a film in Cambridge when we were studying there called The Bachelor of Hearts and its premiere happened to be in Hanover when - again - we were there! But it made no difference to his fans, the hundreds of screaming frauleins. We were also celebrities - there were many good looking guys in our team - and when we emerged from the studio, they were all over us. It was the experience of a lifetime! Kruger now lives in South Africa and is a television commentator on travel. We learned a lot then about Europeans, their way of living, their food and wines. Most important, we learned how to spread goodwill.
It always fascinated me as to why some of the students in Cambridge were so “smart” and why I could not be like them! That was until I met in my badminton team a boy by the name of Alan Pears. He was not a good player, had poor coordination but was very keen and very fit. I found out later he was one of the English public schools top milers - someone who could run the mile in 4 minutes 10 secs. I began to do my running with him as a pacemaker. We also did a lot of badminton training together; I gave him 13 points start, played doubles court while he played in the singles court and so on. Alan eventually reached the English international second team standard. Each time I planned to practise, he would ask me to call him along and he was always there, in addition to training on his own. He read mathematics and always scored a first class honours in the mathematics tripos. Once I asked him if, with so much training, he ever studied at all. He replied, “I was up at 5 a.m. this morning and have already done two hours work. Furthermore, I have already done this year’s work last year and am now studying next year’s!”
Then there was Clive Ryan, a medical student, who became my good friend. He was a university athlete, an under-50 seconds 400 metres runner. We had similar interests and he was not a scholar. Once I was at a lecture with him, where the hall was full and very warm, and the lecturer very boring. Clive kept turning to talk to me on and off, in between leaning forwards on his forearms to doze. The lecturer noticed him and naturally questioned him on what the lecture was about. Yet, no matter how incessantly Clive was grilled, he was able to answer all the questions hurled at him. It resembled a first class honours viva and Clive could even add more to the lecture’s content. Eventually the frustrated lecturer gave in. For his scintilllating performance, Clive received a standing ovation from the entire audience, together with the traditional loud foot stamping of approval. It was a performance I have yet to see repeated!
These Cambridge scholars taught me a lot. I would not have learnt their way of studying had I had not known them. It all came about because we had sports in common. I adopted their way of studying later in London at St Bartholomew's Hospital (St Barts) as, at Cambridge, I had learnt of it too late. It was also very interesting to know that all the students in my year at college became consultants later in life, with two becoming professors, one a Professor of Medicine at Oxford University and the other Professor of Nuclear Medicine at my teaching hospital at Barts. Two have still not been accounted for, despite an extensive college search, including my friend Clive.
Besides studies and badminton, I also found time to punt on the River Cam at Cambridge and to have tea at Granchester, with cakes, butter and hot scones. As medics, we worked the hardest of all the courses at Cambridge. The May Ball was the event of the year and my college held it on the last year I was there. The food was fantastic, the top bands were there as well as debutantes. Girls from abroad actually advertised for undergrads to bring them to this gala! The women were attired in the latest designer dresses and all the men wore dinner jackets or sports blazers from the college they represented.
As a poor medic, I was up the whole night at the May Ball and had to turn up at the exam hall the next morning in my dinner jacket! Most people were also in penguin suits and some even ventured to punt on the river only to fall in fully clothed. In those days all undergrads had to wear a gown after dark so as to be easily identified as such. Proctors, or bulldogs, specially chosen from the college staff for their ability to run fast after errant students, patrolled the town to maintain the peace. These bulldogs wore gowns and hats, went in twos and were easily recognized. All of us had to be in college by 11 p.m. and occasionally, after the curfew hour, I had to help Clive to assist his friends climb over a ten foot wall, together with their bicycles. It was not too easy if one had too much drink. This was all part of college life as one tries to avoid apprehension by the college porters.
The 1958 Thomas Cup Fiasco
The Lent term in Cambridge, January to March 1958, was a particularly hectic one, what with my preparation for the Varsity match against Oxford and the gruelling academic curriculum. I fell ill with a high fever and had a very severe right earache, otitis media. My eardrum ruptured and and I became deaf in my right ear. I was given penicillin by the college doctor but it was, indeed, a very severe liability while playing badminton. When a shuttle is struck, it is really weird - there is total silence - and it is very hard to play, almost like playing with one eye closed. Fortunately, I survived the crisis, and slowly regained my hearing after a few months. At this time I knew I had to train extra hard as the Thomas Cup competition would be played in a few months time and I could be needed to defend it.
The heavy burden of my medical studies, and my possible representation of Malaya in the defence of the Thomas Cup weighed very heavily on my shoulders at that time. Still I was prepared, to the best of my ability, to uphold the honour for Malaya if needed. I had to sacrifice my studies for the time being. As an undergraduate in Cambridge I had to be in residence for nine terms to be able to graduate with a medical degree. A term is about sixty nights. As the challenge round of the Thomas Cup was not till the 14th and 15th of June, 1958, I had to get special permission to leave the college to return home for acclimatization some time in the Easter term which started in April and ended in June. I would also be missing part of that term and my end of term exams as well. This meant I had to return at a later date to complete that term, and this would have to be after I passed my final exams in 1963. By then all the students in my year would have graduated and be working in hospitals.
As it was an honour for the college that I was finally called up for training to prepare for the Thomas Cup defence. Permission was then granted for me to return to Malaya. Training was started in earnest with Eddy Choong even while I was in London. I was now much stronger, mature, fitter. At the Glasgow World Invitation Championship in April 1958 I had beaten the great Finn Kobberø, who was runners-up that year in the All-England Championship, 9-15, 18-17, 15-11. During practice in London I was able to get the better of Eddy Choong. In 15 matches he only beat me once!!
Eddy was very confident Malaya was going to retain the Thomas Cup and this confidence was conveyed to the media in Malaya. Betting was very heavy on his prediction for Malaya. Somehow I felt Eddy was not as good as he was. The years of good and hard living and late nights were now beginning to tell. Furthermore, his style of play was very basic and easy to play against - there was no deception, and he only depended on a good length and stamina. The stamina had now waned but, unfortunately, Eddy did not know it. He was the captain of the Malayan team with his reputation, and the spokesmen and the officials believed him. The Badminton Association of Malaya became very complacent, while our rivals trained very seriously.
Before I returned to Malaya I sparred in Wimbledon with Joe Alston, the great American player and captain of the American team, when he was preparing for the All-England. He was an FBI agent, five foot eight in height, muscular, tough, with many scars on his face, inflicted by knife wielding assailants. He was an excellent singles player and one of those who had beaten Eddy Choong in his prime. Joe was a very tough cookie to play against and we both respected one another, so much so he called me "Tiger". I reciprocated by calling him the same name. Joe only labelled those who impressed him with their tough and tenacious qualities. I still correspond with him till today and he remains in good health.
I returned on May 9, 1958, from freezing London to the oven hot Malayan heat and humidity. With only a few days rest, I was soon playing at the Singapore Badminton Hall, in front of an audience of 10,000. With the poor ventilation and cigarette smoke, it became a furnace. I had to play Teh Kew San. It was a bitterly fought match and I was not acclimatized yet. I lost the first set 5-15, won the second 15-12, led him 14-12 in the rubber, but - in one of those things - lost it at 15-17. I never had a re-match with him again after I was better acclimatized.
The Thomas Cup squad was housed in a colonial bungalow at Mt Pleasant Road. Most of us had to share rooms, and I was unfortunate to have to share mine with Eddy. As he often entertained in the room, I had to wait outside till his 'guests' left before I could go in to sleep. The squad treated this place like a holiday retreat, only going to the S.B.A. Hall at night for training, which was only on court. There was no organized training and, in fact, I was the only one doing road work, skipping, circuit training and so on. I never had a chance to play against Eddy even once. I guess the reason was obvious. He and Kew San only played sets of two against one another, which often ended up in an inconclusive draw. I was left to play with Piruz and Fook Ying. I beat them both initially but, unfortunately, pulled a stomach muscle soon after, which was even reported in the papers!
With my strained abdominal muscles I was not able to smash or take lobs when I had to extend my back. I felt it prudent to rest till they healed after a few days. My plan was to maintain fitness, doing other forms of training like skipping, running, practicing specific strokes and shadow badminton, without straining those muscles. But, unfortunately, the selectors thought otherwise. When I was made to play Piruz and Fook Ying despite my injury, I made it a no contest because it served no useful purpose. So I conceded the games at 15-0 15-2 without trying. If I were to play in the challenge round I had to be fully fit or not at all. I was now learning the politics of the sport which, for me, was just rearing its ugly head.
My father was with me at this time and, seeing the unfairness of the system, had suggested a trial with Eddy and a return match with Kew San. This, for obvious reasons, fell on deaf ears! Kew San had already been beating Eddy even as early as February 1958. What was ominious was that the BAM just would not see the writing on the wall. Eddy Choong had lost that year to Erland Kops in the quarter finals of the All-England and he was the title holder! He had lost to Ferry Sonneville at the World Invitation in Glasgow that year, too. The newspapers also noted Wong Peng Soon had not been invited to the trials in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, but the BAM had then reluctantly invited him to the final trials in Singapore.
Whenever we went out to dinner, functions, the cinema, and even in the streets in Singapore, we were instantly recognized. We were celebrities! I was most uncomfortable going out with Eddy as he often frequented places where he could meet his friends of the opposite sex! One did not know who could be watching us! In fact, when Malaya eventually lost with Eddy performing so badly, some of his activities were reported in the scandal tabloids with even the names of the women involved. There was the responsibility on my part to take my training seriously, as I was specially brought back for the defence of the Thomas Cup and not to have a good time!
Selection of a team is based on many factors. One is the selectors' knowledge of the ability of the players they are selecting, their international experience and respect earned, especially by foreigners who know, have seen, and have played against them. Psychology and respect play a great part in competition The selectors of the 1958 Thomas Cup team were Heah Joo Siang (Chairman), Teh Gin Sooi (Penang), Wee Kim Wee (Singapore), A.S. Samuel (Selangor), Tan Cheng Phor (Perak), Hoo Chor Kwee (I don’t know where he was from). Note that Wong Peng Soon, the coach, is not in the committee! A coach with Peng Soon’s experience should have been on the selection committee.
The impression I had was that Eddy Choong and the President were running the show, as he (Eddy) appeared to be the spokesman all the time and so influenced the selectors. He appeared to have put personal grudges before country ever since that All-England humiliation in 1955! As far as I can remember Peng Soon was not consulted but still he made his own recommendation for Poh Lim and myself to be included. During the trials most of the selectors were not there to observe the form of the players as most were upcountry. They merely relied on match scores as the selection criteria! If they had only watched my match against Kew San soon after my arrival which I had lost by just a whisker despite my being unacclimatised, the Thomas Cup team could have been decided there and then. If they had any sense of fair play they should have asked for a rematch and a play-off with Eddy. I had already beaten Piruz and Fook Ying before my injury. Malaya were so very confident that the President even purchased four bottles of champagne for the victory celebration. They claimed doubles superiority and boasted that they could beat the challenger, that is, Indonesia since the Indonesians had first to beat Denmark and then Thailand before they could meet Malaya and by that time they would be totally exhausted. Tan Joe Hock, they cockily calculated, had to play 12 matches in 9 days! He would not last, they said.
Malaya sealed their fate when they announced their team leaving me and Poh Lim out!! In doing so it was obvious to all that Piruz was going to play third singles against Eddie Yusuf. If they had put my name in instead of Fook Ying, the Indonesians would not know our order of play, even if I was not selected. If I had played the third singles against Eddie Yusuf he would have been very scared, as Palle Granlund the Danish No. Three had just thrashed him easily in two sets, and I had just beaten Kobberø their All England runners-up and Danish Number Two. Kobberø had beaten Sonneville in their encounter a few days previously. The Indonesian celebrated when they heard I was left out.
In my opinion I should have played at number 1 or 2. since I had victories over Sonneville, and, psychologically, he would be very nervous and fatigued after playing Denmark and Thailand in order to meet us. Those who had played me had always said I was a very hard player to beat, and even when they won they would not have recovered sufficiently to play the next match because of exhaustion. This would have been to Kew San's advantage. Most of my matches against players of this caliber normally go to three sets and usually last an hour or more. If Eddy had played at No. 3 he would have beaten Eddie Yusuf, and have more energy in the doubles with Teik Hock. In the event Eddy faced Sonneville instead and was wiped out by Sonneville in 21 mins, the second set 4-15 lasting a mere 9 mins. He left the court totally exhausted and was booed off by the very disappointed spectators.
Poh Lim should also have partnered Teik Hock, an established combination, and an All-England doubles champion. Poh Lim was also in form at that time and he had never lost any matches in all his Thomas Cup games. This pain and humiliation Poh Lim never forgot and carried to his grave. The other doubles combination was Johnny Heah and Lim Say Hup. The latter was a schoolboy doubles champion in my time, with no international experience. Johnny Heah was the more seasoned campaigner although he lacked fitness. As one singles player had to play doubles, Eddy could have partnered Johnny or Say Hup. With this combination we could have won 3 doubles or 2 singles or vice versa. Not unexpectedly, Piruz lost miserably to Eddie Yusuf, silencing those who had said he was in top form when he had beaten me during my injury! After the selection of the Malayan Thomas Cup team was made, many sports correspondents voiced their objection to Poh Lim and myself being left out. More criticisms of the selection poured in after the defeat, especially in the Chinese tabloids.
On thinking back after the Thomas Cup fiasco, many of the BAM officials did not realize arrogantly cocksure they had been. If they had looked at the score sheets they would have been aghast at how Malaya would have performed if we had been matched against the other countries that did not make it through the earlier Challenge round. If they had, they would have realized how badly and inadequately prepared our Malayan Thomas Cuppers had been. Soon after the Challenge round, the Malayan Open and Selangor Gold Cup tournament was held, at which our Thomas Cuppers Eddy Choong had been beaten by Thanoo Khadjadbhai the Thai No. 2. Thanoo was a very durable player, the same height as Eddy but he was much more muscular (he did weights), and he could retrieve any shot and run till the cows came home. I had played him before and some of our rallies could go up to a 100 strokes. After Eddy lost this match, he made a telling comment that he was too old for singles! It looked like he found out too late; I don’t remember his making a come back after that. As for Kew San, he was beaten easily by Charoen Wattanasin 15-9 15-4 the Thai No.1. Charoen and Kamol easily defeated Lim Say Hup and Johnny Heah. Malaya could not have beaten Denmark as Indonesia had a very tough time beating them. We would have had to compete with America for the wooden spoon!
Charoen was known as the "Human machine" for his grit and lasting ability. He was quite an unorthodox player, and very fast at the net. I got to know both Charoen and Thanoo very well later, as they both received scholarships from the Thai Royal family to study in England after their magnificent performance. Peng Soon had close ties with the Thai Royal family who were badminton fanatics. They appreciated the maestro’s courtcraft, stylish strokes and beautiful footwork. Peng Soon used to coach the Thai players and play with the King and the numerous princesses in Bangkok, and some of the keener ones came over to cheer their compatriots at the All-England Championships. They told me they always enjoyed seeing me play against Charoen. I also enjoyed their hospitality when I went over to Bangkok with Peng Soon. Having played with both Charoen and Thanoo so often we had a very healthy respect for each other. I played many tournaments with Charoen Wattanasin as his doubles partner in Europe. In fact whenever I go to Bangkok for medical conferences I still look him up and we always reminisce over the old days.
After so much sacrifice and time spent returning to Singapore to help Malaya in the defence of the Thomas Cup, I had missed so much work and the first year exams when I returned to Cambridge that I immediately immersed myself in my studies to catch up and prepare myself for the Natural Sciences Tripos exams. I spent the holidays studying ten to twelve hours a day. Badminton was confined to university matches.
On the IBF Council
In my final year in Cambridge in 1960, Teh Gin Sooi, the Secretary of the Badminton Association of Malaya, wrote to me appointing me the Malayan delegate to the International Badminton Federation meeting to be held that year in London. Malaya had proposed that the wood shot rule be abolished. The old rule had stated that any part of the racket frame hit by the shuttlecock was a fault. This was the first and not the last time I was to encounter European bureaucracy. It took me a long time to prepare and give my speech and although I had a standing ovation, the proposal was not passed. As I was already well known and respected in the badminton fraternity, I was elected as a council member.
I found out that the voting system was very much loaded against the Asian countries. The President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer all had a vote. All the founder members, which consisted mainly of the European countries, Great Britain - conveniently split up into England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales with a vote each - had big votes. One vote was given for every 10 years of membership, and many of these European nations had been members for 30 to 40 years! One extra vote was given for participating in a Thomas cup or Uber cup competition. A country like England would have 6 votes while a new country like Indonesia 2 votes! Furthermore, no postal votes were allowed, and delegates had to be present to vote. Poor countries like the Philippines, Hong Kong and Ceylon could not afford to send any delegates and so could not vote. England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium usually all voted together to prevent this rule 14(h) from being changed. The western countries favoured this law because they felt that to play good badminton the shuttle must strike the centre of the racket. But Asians play so fast that they tend to wood shot more so the skilled Europeans could not retrieve it! Basically it was better for the sport to abolish rule 14(h) as ‘woods’ were so hard to detect and players often were penalized when a stroke sounded like a wood shot.
Due to my persistence in fighting for abolition of rule 14(h) year after year, the opposing countries were very bored with my presence and I was not very popular since I was not one of them. Some of the opposing delegates, I found out, did not necessarily vote as instructed by their associations for many reasons and some countries requested the English secretary Mr Herbert Scheele, who was very pro-British and was not for the Asians, to find delegates for them!
Being a council member of the International Badminton Federation was no fun, as the majority of the members were Europeans and they were very ‘colonial’ in their mentality, very arrogant, and tended to elect each other year after year. The few Asians who were there were the yes-men; they did not like opposition. Despite my studies and badminton commitment I fought very hard for the abolition of the wood shot. I even had a petition signed by the top English players but to no avail, as their representative to the IBF simply voted against it. Fortunately, I had the help of my family, especially my father, Oon Khye Beng who at that time had already retired to live in England. He did the secretarial work, and contacted all the members of the IBF that were neutral, so that they might come over to our side, as well as to convince those who were not for us. If e-mail had been available at that time it would have been a boon! We even made contact with the anti-apartheid African countries for their support, as well as the council of African Unity. Every year was a disappointment; we were always crushed!
The big day came at the AGM of the IBF on July 2, 1963. At the meeting it appeared Malaya had to start all over again when the opposition found out that some of the countries that were supporting us were in arrears with their subscription and so would be barred from voting. Fortunately, I had enough money on me! So I straight away went across and paid all their arrears for them, even for a few years for some!! We needed a two thirds majority to have the wood shot rule changed. By the skin of our teeth we survived 60 votes for us, and 30 against - exactly the two thirds we needed! 26 countries had supported us while 8 were against. The report of this meeting appeared in The Straits Times of July 26, 1963, in which the BAM secretary, Teh Gin Sooi, said that "... Dr. Oon is to be congratulated for his yeoman service to the game and for his unflagging efforts to rally round the many nations to our side in the woodshot campaign...". This was my greatest victory in badminton, besides beating Tan Joe Hock the man responsible for the defeat of Malaya in the 1958 Thomas Cup later at the All-England and my most memorable contribution to the sport. The new rule has now stood the test of time for exactly 40 years - and a V.I. boy achieved it!! Players now enjoy the game more but most people today are not aware of how it was changed!
On the English and European Circuits
Chong Jin and myself used Dunlop equipment exclusively. We had good rapport with the directors and were able to get rackets, shoes and sports bags free of charge, which cut down the cost of playing the game. When we won a tournament the winnings per event was 3 guineas to 5 guineas, that is, 3 English pounds to 5 English pounds or about 10 to 15 Singapore dollars. The pound was stronger then. One really played for the love of the game those days. Unlike today when some players become millionaires! I also found discrimination regarding clothing and apparel. The English internationals were able to get shirts, shorts and socks ad lib from Fred Perry, but they only gave us 3 shirts and 2 shorts to last a whole season, and we had to purchase the extras. This was insufficient even for a day! So Chong Jin and myself refused to wear their clothing, but used a rival firm instead - Teddy Tinling. They were famous for their designs in lawn tennis clothing, especially for women. Fred Perry, however, did not enjoy a monopoly in clothing the badminton players.
I came down to London in October 1960 to commence my clinical training at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, after completing the pre-clinicals at Cambridge. The change was very obvious, students here were very relaxed, compared to the grind at Cambridge! The dean, Dr. Ellison Nash, told us in no uncertain terms during orientation, which really surprised me: in the first year, do minimal study, go out and meet people you have to relate to your patients, and understand them. Go to the pubs, get drunk! and know what it feels like to talk to other drunks so you would understand them and won't be angry with a drunk if he comes in as your patient!! The message was to socialize and socialize. But in your second clinical year, study, study, concentrate on your clinical work. I did not follow his recommendations all the way, but learning from my academic friends at Cambridge, I organized my time better, and kept ahead of the lectures, and this allowed me more time with other activities.
It did not take me long to discover that I did not see eye to eye with the English badminton officials, especially my involvement in changing the wood-shot rule. It would now be very hard for them to get a two third majority to reverse it!! Foreign countries often wrote to the Secretary of the English badminton association, requesting for players to participate in their tournaments, with all fares and board taken care of. Now it was obvious I was not one of the chosen ones, and one very soon gets to know about it. I am not as lucky as the players of today who get sent abroad even if they do not do well. This favouritism made me very angry and determined to set the record straight! I took advantage of my easy first year at Barts. to play local English tournaments which I usually won as well as the doubles with Chong Jin who had now matured into an excellent singles and doubles player. From these tournaments, one learns of who is participating in the other tournaments, and the players that are invited, especially the well-known and popular ones. Whenever I found out a national tournament had invited some top guns, I would home in on them, as they often do not know much of players outside their own country. Many of the invited players came from England or were foreigners living in England.
One time, I found out that the German Championships were going to be held in early March, 1961 in Bonn, and that Ferry Sonneville as well as Charoen Wattanasin, the "human machine" now living in England were invited and were seeded No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. I departed from London on the night train to Dover on a Friday, then traveled the whole night without sleep, sitting in the lounge, crossing the very rough North Sea, arriving at Calais in the early hours. It was then by the trans-European express through France and Belgium and finally arriving in Bonn just before the tournament started at noon. That same day I played two rounds before I clashed with the "human machine" in the evening. It was a very hard fought battle lasting over an hour, in the end the Malayan "machine" ground the Thai "machine" to a halt, and he almost collapsed from exhaustion. I won 8-15, 15-12,15-8. It was useful playing these national tournaments as many other European players take part and they get to know of you. I left the Sunday night the same route I took, and was at Barts for the afternoon lectures. I had not been missed that much!
Another way I used to travel to the Dutch Championships at Haarlem as an impoverished student in the cold months of February, was to take a train to Southend, and then by a cargo plane which had only six wooden seats. This plane also carried cars and lorries. On arrival at Rotterdam I then traveled by train to Haarlem to compete in the Championships. I usually traveled alone just after lectures on a Friday afternoon and was lucky most of the time not to be delayed. Having done well at these tournaments the organizers and the person in charge, Mr. Verhoef, would then offer to subsidise part of the fares the next year with accommodation. This was preferable rather than living with families as it gave you more flexibility, with regards to food, and independence. All the families were very nice people and were in some way connected with the tournament. With the fares subsidized we usually traveled in a group by the night train to Harwich, then a whole night across the North Sea, a much longer route than the Dover crossing. We usually shared bunks but it was not possible to sleep as most of us were sea sick, made worse by the smell of the ship’s diesel fumes. It was also cold and windy. After six to seven hours we arrived at the Hook of Holland and then on by train to the badminton hall in Haarlem.
I tried to play in the Dutch Championships regularly as the tournament was well organized, the people friendly and sociable. A fun tournament with a very good party after the championships. The Danish contingent came all the way from Denmark, usually consisting of the younger partying set and made it all very lively. They drank Carlsberg beer all the way from Copenhagen and it was a surprise they could still stand up at the end! Not uncommonly, they had a bottle of beer by the court. I was told the average consumption of beer in Denmark is about 8 to 9 bottles per person, including women, children and babies! I was successful in this tournament winning the mens doubles with Charoen Wattanasin, and the mixed doubles with Ulla Rasmussen, who made her debut here. Ulla later won the All-England mixed doubles title many times with Finn Kobberø. Most of the players in these tournaments enjoyed the spirit and camaderie so much even though they were not very good, they spent their time going round these circuits. I hardly saw the results or reports of of those tournaments, as we left straight away when it ended. I once met a Dutch patient who was also keen on badminton, and I told him I was in Haarlem and had won the Dutch titles, and to prove it showed him the my silver egg cup holder with the engraving "NBB. INT. KAMP"
Tan Joe Hock and ...Vindication
The win over Charoen Wattanasin was very rewarding, satisfying and significant as Thailand was on a roll that year with very strong singles and doubles pairings. They had just beaten Indonesia in the Thomas Cup the year before in Indonesia. Ironically, Peng Soon was their coach!
The All England championships that year commenced on 15th March 1961, and I was not seeded, which made it more difficult to progress in the tournament. I cleared the first round against Colin Beacom the England No.1, then beat the very highly ranked Danish player Knud A. Nielsen. The next round was against Charoen Wattanasin who was joint seeded number 3 or 4 with Finn Kobbero and overcame him 17-14,15-7. In the quarter finals I played Bertil Glans the Swedish champion winning 15-3, 15-9, this took me into the semi-finals and I was unseeded!
It was extremely exhausting as it was played over two days. In the semi-finals I was beaten by Erland Kops. I also played in the men’s doubles with Ole Mertz the Danish captain and reached the semi-finals. With this good showing I received invitations to play in many parts of Europe, and even in Canada and the United States, but had to turn most of it down because of my studies, since these tours took at least two weeks, but I still managed a few weekend ones in Denmark, at Nykobing Falster, Malmoe in Sweden and other parts of Europe.
When the tournaments finished I returned to Copenhagen and went to socialize with the Danish “drunks” at the town hall square in the freezing cold, munching Danish hot dogs with tomato sauce, (as recommended by my dean at Barts) - to improve my communication skills and understanding the social behaviour of the inebriated, something I never had to do in the pubs of London.
1961 passed very quickly, and very soon it was March 1962, and another All England. The scenario was set for a show down between Erland Kops and Tan Joo Hock, both were All-England winners. Tan Joe Hock had never been beaten in any match, and they were seeded joint No. 1 and 2. The badminton fraternity was looking forward to this match. Perhaps it was my destiny, fate, luck, or for some unknown reason known only to the English seeding committee I was again not seeded, despite my good showing the year before.
As it turned out, I was drawn against Tan Joe Hock on the opening day. I was delighted! This was the day I had dreamt of for a long time, I had not forgotten the pain I endured at being dropped for the Thomas Cup of 1958,and all the sacrifices to return to Singapore at the expense of my studies and my parents’ disappointment. Joe Hock was the man who had destroyed the Malayan team, and even though it was four years ago, I wanted to prove the Thomas Cup selectors wrong.
I began to visualize everyday what my master and sifu Wong Peng Soon had taught and showed me. I did all the exercises he had done, including his one hour skipping at 120 revolutions a minute, to toughen my wrist, leg muscles and concentration. In addition there were tough circuit training with weights, and 5 to 10 km road work.
To add insult to injury, about a week before the match the secretary of the English Badminton Association, Mr Herbert Scheele, called my home in Wimbledon and spoke to my parents requesting that I take part in the mixed doubles, as one of the competitors was not able to participate. Chong Teik, he said, would not have a chance against Tan Joe Hock, and would be knocked out in the first round!! My parents naturally were very hurt by these comments. This incident really charge and inspired me. I vowed they would never see Kops play Joe Hock!
The big day arrived, and I felt good and very confident. I had Peng Soon’s old dark blue sports bag which he used when he last won the All England. My plan was to fight every point, return every shot he sent over the net, so that I could tire him later on, even if it went to three sets. Joe Hock took the first set at 18-15. I did not find Joe Hock a difficult adversary; he was a very good steady player, and he knew he was in for a very hard fight, having been warned by his colleagues that I was a very dangerous player to play so early on in the tournament, furthermore he had his reputation at stake.
I knew I had to win the second set and I managed it 15-12. Surprisingly, I played better and better as the match went on. I did not feel at all fatigued, and knew I was going to create the biggest upset of the tournament. In the third set Joe Hock was exhausted, as I returned every thing he sent over. I beat him 15-8 to a standing ovation, and that victory made newspaper headlines in England and Asia. Never had a No.1 seed been knocked out on the first day, and I was the first player to beat Tan Joe Hock. The Straits Times 23rd March 1962 reported that "..there was little doubt Chong Teik won on merit." This was a victory which must have been very satisfying for Malaya, because Joe Hock was the principal architect of Indonesia’s Thomas Cup victory over three times champion Malaya in 1958, a victory which started the slide from which Malaya have not yet recovered. I have kept to this day the Dunlop racket from this victory, as well as my shorts and shirt!
The next round I played the Swedish champion Goran Wahlqvist, and managed to beat him and reached the semi-finals unseeded. By this time I was too exhausted, and had to play my doubles partner Charoen Wattanasin. He won the match this time, and in the men’s doubles we lost to a fresh Chong Jin and Erland Kops in the semi-finals.
My competitive badminton carrier was over as my final medical exams were in a year’s time. My priority was to pass the 1963 exams, and there was no guarantee of winning the All-England! I knew if I studied hard I would pass. I survived the cut as the pass rate in Cambridge that year was 30%!
My Canadian Tour
After I qualified I had to return to Cambridge in October 1963 to redo the term that I did not complete because of the 1958 Thomas Cup competition. I spent my time attached to Addenbrookes Hospital and was the only one having to redo a term as all my friends had already started working. When I completed the term I was invited to tour Canada to play exhibition matches, with Channarong Ratanasaengsuang, Erland Kops and Torben Kops (Erland's brother). We went from east to west - New Brunswick, Montreal, Toronto, Saskatoon, Regina and Calgary. The people were very friendly and wanted Channarong and myself to stay behind and teach them but unfortunately I already had commitments in England. I really wonder what would have happened if I stayed in Canada. It would certainly have changed the course of my work today!
Calgary was very impressive with its Glencoe Club which had eight badminton courts, an ice skating rink, facilities for curling, a golf course, a gym with a running track inside, and tennis and squash courts. It also had three to four restaurants. Compared to Singapore it was cheap - about $C15,000 entrance fee and a wait of ten to twelve years to get in! Channarong accepted the post as he was at that time already in the United States and was not working. (He was sponsored by the Thai royalty!!) When we got down to San Diego where he was, I found him not studying, but busy courting a nurse at a nearby hospital, who later became his wife.
It was there that I met the legendary Dr. Dave Freeman, a neurosurgeon. He was about 5’ 11” tall, lithe, strong. His muscles were still taut and he was still very fit-looking. Here was a man who would, in his heyday, return every stroke you sent over! On the tour it was very interesting to note Channarong and Kops did not get on well. That year Kops had beaten Channarong in the All-England finals. I think the bad blood had already been for some time. In the exhibition matches Erland Kops had blisters on his feet and Channarong would make sure, when the two of them played, that he would make them worse so that they developed into double decker blisters!! Channarong had no sympathy for him and said that Erland Kops was known for “torturing” others who did not match his ability or whom he took a dislike to. I, however, got on well with Channarong, and we exchange cards every year.
Channarong was made the captain and manager of the Canadian team, in charge of training players in Glencoe. He did very well for himself and, in fact, I went to visit and stay with him many years ago. He used to train Jamie Poulson who was then a teenager living in Vancouver. Jamie used to fly every day to Calgary to play with Channarong, and then return to Vancouver the same day!! Have you heard of someone so keen? Jamie Poulson later became the Canadian champion, qualified as a lawyer, and returned to Glencoe Club as the President to run the club. Channarong has had it made and he is still there 39 years later!
What impressed me with Calgary was when I was taken to lunch at Banff which is only, at 120 km, an hour away! I saw Banff then in its original glory unspoilt by tourism. It was then a one-road cowboy town, everything being very primitive. We went to the famed hot springs which were out in the open where one could sit in the warm sulphurous waters with the four seasons passing overhead - rain, then snow, clear sky with sun and then clouds. There I had the most fantastic meal - a dish called the Man-Eater Steak. It was one foot square and a foot thick, covered with chips and salad. It almost killed me eating it and I did not eat for two days after that!!
When I returned to Banff decades later with my family, everything had changed. It was so modern and touristy, with lots of Japanese and foreign visitors. I never found my Man-Eater Steak again although I hunted for it high and low; I only got a 25 ozs one. The hot springs had gone and were now in a hotel up the hill near the Banff Springs Hotel. It has been made almost like a swimming pool. I was at a friend's house in the winter there and what was so remarkable were the animals which were so used to humans. There was this reindeer that just walked in through the kitchen into the sitting room, looked at us and then walked out by the front door to the snow outside!
Meeting Punch Gunalan
After I finished my extra term at Cambridge I started my housemanship in the south of England in Eastbourne which is a seaside resort and yet I hardly saw the sea for six months. The work schedule there was so tough that I was working about 150 hrs a week. By today’s standard of 40 hours a week it was slave labour - but my badminton training saw me through. It needed a lot of mental and physical toughness. Doing your job well was a good reference to the next posting and eventually, in time, to the top hospitals and to a consultant post.
Around this time I learnt that Punch Gunalan was studying very close to where I was working. He was in Brighton - another seaside resort about an hour and a half away by car. I drove down there on my half-days, usually a Wednesday, which did not begin till 5 p.m., to visit him and his friends. I also had a game with him. He was a fine and very talented player, fast, tricky, with an excellent wrist and a powerful smash considering he was not very robust and lacked stamina. Punch did well later in tournaments; he was an intelligent player with excellent courtcraft.
Malaysia now were sending players regularly to play in the All-England for experience. Players like Tan Aik Huang, his brother Aik Mong, Yew Cheng Hoe, Billy Ng, Ng Boon Bee and Tan Yee Khan. They did not beat the top Danish players like Kops, Kobbero and Hammergaard Hansen, but they performed quite well. In the late sixties Japan was also sending players over, like Yoshio Komiya, Tekeish Miyanaga and Akiyama. Komiya was one of the fastest players and most powerful players I have seen. He was like a rubber ball and when he played Erland Kops, Erland did not know what hit him. But like a lot of power players Komiya ran out of steam!!
China's Entry to the IBF
I was not playing badminton so much now as I had more responsibilities with my studies and higher exams. I lived in most of the hospitals that I worked at but still kept contact with my friends abroad. One day around 1970 I had a call from a badminton player friend in Hong Kong whom I had known since school days. He had known that I was quite established on the badminton scene and wondered if I could help China get into the International Badminton Federation.
At that time the western countries were very pro-Taiwan and China were sending out their badminton players abroad to tour various countries including England. Their players stemmed from a very good base. Around the time I left for England they had two very good youngsters about my age. One was called Tang Hsien-Hu, known as “The Thing” and Hou Chia-chiang. They had emigrated to China from Indonesia during the disturbances in Indonesia in the mid-1950’s. The Chinese teams that toured England were very strong and must have had their training from Tang and Hou. In fact Erland Kops was very badly beaten when he went over to play in China.
Once again I met a lot of hostility at the IBF towards my mission but I knew it was going to be some time before the decision was made to accept China - there was too much politics involved! In 1973 I was persuaded by Professor Seah Cheng Siang to return to work in Singapore and I came back that year to work in the Singapore General Hospital. I left the China issue to Chong Jin, my father and other China supporters.
It did not take me very long to acclimatize to the tropics and get used to the local scene again after being so Anglicised. Basically I am not a fussy person, and very easy going. Being very sporty, friends were not difficult to come by. The badminton fraternity welcomed me and I was elected as a vice-president of the Singapore Badminton Association. I was there for about a year, but because of medical duties and being on call found it hard to attend their meetings. There were lots of arguments and meetings went on till the early hours of the morning. I found I could not offer much, and there was a lot of politics as usual!!
In 1975 my parents came to Singapore and decided that I should pay a visit to my roots in China. We arrived just before October 1st, 1975, in time for the national celebration. This was the Mao Tse Tung era when everyone wore drab grey. Our village was in the province of Fujian near Fuzhou. It was called Ch’hia Tsio and known as the Oon village! Our neighbours were the Guis and they intermarried. We were well-looked after in China due to our badminton connections and when we were in Peking we managed to watch the China Badminton championships where Tang Hsien-Hu played Hou Chia-chiang.
They were two players I heard so much about, but had never met till that day. My name was known to them as we were from the same era. Tang and Hou were two superb physical specimens, very powerful players. Their play was very similar in style to the top Chinese players of today who obviously copied them. It was a pity they were incarcerated in China for so long and with the IBF blocking the entry of China there was no chance these two great players could take their rightful place in world badminton. They might well have been world No. 1 and No. 2. It did not surprise me they thrashed Erland Kops when he played there. I met Hou at a dinner party. He was very friendly and was able to converse quite well in Cantonese but, unfortunately, I did not meet Tang as he had to return to Shanghai.
When China was eventually admitted into the IBF, the China Badminton Association held a very big meeting inviting all those who supported them to Beijing. My father, Oon Khye Beng and my mother, Oon Ming Tak - badminton stalwarts their whole life - were honoured for their contribution to China’s “long march” into the IBF by garnering support from neutral and pro-China countries over the years. They had the honour of meeting Deng Xiao-ping and this grand finale was a fitting and happy end to their involvement in badminton. The whole world has benefited from China's entry to the IBF and their exciting play still thrills the whole world to this day. But very few will remember or even be aware of the difficulties encountered on the way in!
Peng Soon's Style and Technique
Peng Soon was an artist. Those who have only seen the players of today will not believe that such a player existed. His play was effortless and always consistent. He was such a refined player who was never temperamental and could always be relied on. He did not have any fancy strokes, but his strokes had class. He moved with the lithe grace of a ballet dancer and could lead with either leg for a stroke, unlike most players who tend to use their dominant leg. He stretched, he glided, but he never jumped or ran for a shot. When he played it looked so easy as he was always in control of the game and was never out of position, being at mid court after every shot. He controlled his opponents by denying them opportunities of using their best strokes.
His backhand, stronger than his forehand, was his forte! With his backhand he could hit accurately to any section of his opponent's court. For this man the overhead stroke was non-existent. This contrasts markedly with the players of today who rely heavily on the overhead stroke which often replaces their backhand. The overhead not only forces the player out of the mid court position which results in a loss of territorial advantage, but it also puts severe stress on the spine and hip which often leads to injury later. Peng Soon never hurried for a stroke and was constantly watching his opponent from the comer of his eye. It was almost impossible to read his strokes as they often changed direction with Peng Soon giving a deft flick of his wrist at the last moment. This invariably caused his opponent to become "cross-legged" or move in the wrong direction! He could also accurately read his opponent's return and be ready for it. Should an opponent over or under hit a shot, Peng Soon, without bothering to move, would commiserate, "Hard luck, old boy" and the shuttle would surely be half an inch outside the baseline or just touch the white tape at the net and not go over. Such was his judgement. Indeed, he was a maestro of energy conservation and judgement. When he served, he usually looked at his opponent's feet with his sleepy half-closed eyes. He stood at half court holding his racket at ear level and would spin it anti-clockwise two or three times before he unleashed a slicing service that came like a torpedo at chest level. Not surprisingly, his service was difficult to attack and one could only return it defensively.
In his Thomas Cup match against the U.S.A., Peng Soon played Martin Mendez, who was a dour competitor and could run forever. During a close net duel, Mendez flicked the shuttle fast and low over Peng Soon's head to the baseline. The latter swivelled round 180 degrees and, with three or four long strides towards the baseline, flicked the shuttle with his backhand in a fantastic retrieve to the back of Mendez's court. Mendez stood open-mouthed in admiration and joined the crowd in a standing ovation which was echoed later in all the cinemas throughout Malaya when this rally was shown on Pathé News. Till now, I have yet to see this shot repeated by any of the backhand exponents of the game.
Peng Soon's 1955 All-England
I last saw Peng Soon play on March 26, 1955, in London when he was 38. He had been invited by the Badminton Association of England to challenge the reigning All-England champion, Eddy Choong, to prevent the latter from winning the tournament for the third consecutive time. For this tournament, Peng Soon gave me the honour of carrying his dark blue badminton bag, which he normally did not allow anyone to carry except himself! Although he was sponsored by Grays of Cambridge, he always kept for special occasions his favourite Dunlop racket. This racket, which was painted blue to resemble a Grays racket, was strung to three quarter tension to prevent the gut from breaking during play. I gave him my Dunlop racket as a spare as it had the same specifications as his. (The Grays racket of this period was inferior to the Dunlop Maxply and Slazenger rackets, till it became the Silver Gray which Peng Soon autographed later.) The Badminton Association of England was known for its strict dress code which was all white attire. Peng Soon was, therefore, not allowed to wear his favourite blue shorts which he believed brought him luck. So he wore a pair of off-white long flannel pants over his blue ones!
Watching this 45th All-England championship at Empress Hall was like watching master and pupil play. Eddy fought hard to retain his title. He ran and dived for the shuttle till his knees were bruised and swollen but Peng Soon nevertheless beat him in three superb games, 15-7, 14-17, 15-10. Till today, nobody else has won the Men's All-England Singles title at the age of 38 years. After this victory Peng Soon left me his dark blue badminton bag in the hope that it would inspire me to follow in his footsteps.
Great Players of the Era
Dr Dave Freeman
This was the only man to beat Peng Soon without the latter avenging the defeat. This was because Freeman soon retired from badminton to continue with his medical studies and go on to become a neuro-surgeon. He was supposed to be a great retriever and never let the shuttle touch the floor. When I met him in 1964 in San Diego while playing at the U.S. Nationals, he still looked a fit, wiry and strong man.
Ong Poh Lim
This man was quite the opposite of Peng Soon in that he had an extremely unorthodox style holding his racket "pan handle" and had a non-existent backhand! Despite a limp due to one leg being shorter than the other, he was greased lightning on court and any shot half inch above the net was rapidly put away. He was a player no school coach would have selected for coordination. His crouched “crocodile service” never failed to draw hysterical laughter from the audience. He had a sunny disposition and was extremely popular both on and off court. Apart from beating Peng Soon many times, Poh Lim also won an All England Doubles title. Undoubtedly his extremely unorthodox style was effective!
One of Peng Soon's last matches of his career was in 1955 in Singapore during the Thomas Cup against the stylish and very talented Dane, Finn Kobberø. The latter was only 17 years old at the time and was at the beginning of a great badminton career. His style was very different from the earlier top Danes like Jørn Skaarup and Paul Holm. Kobberø was a brilliant and deceptive player who had a good reach and could almost score a point every stroke! His strokes and deception were incomparable but his weakness was his inconsistency. He must have shaken Peng Soon when he beat the latter 15-12 in the first set. Luckily for Peng Soon, Kobberø wilted in the heat in the next two sets. Though Kobberø reached the finals of the All England Men’s Singles many times, he never won it. He did, however, win the men's doubles and mixed doubles many times. Kobberø was one of the few players who completely mesmerized me with his strokes when I first played him and it was not till later that I learnt how to play him. It was from this great player, Finn Kobberø, that came the stroke players of the calibre of Fleming Delfs, J. Mortensen and P. Hoyer Larsen. It is possible that Kobberø was influenced by Peng Soon's style when, as a boy, he saw Peng Soon play in Copenhagen.
Born in Yorkshire, he was an accomplished county cricketer. He went to America to open a sports shop and became coach and manager of the USA badminton team. Though not a top notch player he was a master showman and an artist of a different type. He wrote a book on badminton coaching and was best known for his game of “gladminton.” He gave variety performances and also performed for royalty, including King George V and Queen Mary. Ken usually came on during the intermission between matches. He could play with a tennis racket, a squash racket or even a warped badminton racket without guts! His amazing feats include hitting the shuttle over the net with the shaft or handle frame of the racket, or from between his legs with his back to the net, or even with his head at times. He even did his acts on ice. This was trick badminton at its best and audiences really loved it. Ken visited our home in Kuala Lumpur once; he was a most friendly and sociable person. Unfortunately, this talented artist died in a plane crash in Prestwick, Scotland, in the early 1950s.
Peng Soon's Sojourn in the West
As I was a frequent competitor on the British and European circuit, I got to know well Len Verhoef, the organiser of the Dutch Championships. The Dutch Badminton Association was then still young and needed a coach. They were impressed with the high standard of Asian badminton having been exposed to the likes of players like Eddy and David Choong as well as other Malayan players who played regularly in Amsterdam and Haarlem. Ferry Sonneville was another Asian who was playing there as he was then studying in Holland. Knowing that Peng Soon was not working at that time, I encouraged him to take up the Dutch coaching offer and he did. Unfortunately, Peng Soon's expectations of his job differed substantially from that of the Dutch Association. He was expected to play with all types of players whether serious or recreational. He, however, could not bring himself to accept playing with those who merely wanted a "knock" for some exercise. A subsequent coaching stint in Montreal, Canada, was equally unsuccessful. Others who followed him like Chanarong Ratanaseungsuang, my doubles partner and good friend, fared much better. Chanarong went on to coach the Canadian National Team and became their team manager. Today he is doing well at the prestigious Glencoe Club in Calgary.
Peng Soon’s Meticulous Match Preparations
1. He strung his racket himself to the key of G on the piano. The head was pulled long shaped like a torpedo, and the handle had an extra leather strap at the end to prevent slipping.
2. He never lent others his racket and he always carried it himself.
3. Badminton shoes were worn only on the badminton court, never worn outside.
4. He had a tin of resin powder which he used for his racket grip to prevent his hand slipping. This powder was also sprinkled on the floor by the net post and used for his shoes should he be playing on a slipping court.
5. A small hand towel was by his right pocket to wipe the sweat from his hands.
6. Peng Soon never carried any extra weight like rings, bracelets watches or chains. His hair was always short, and Brylcreem was used to keep it in place.
7. He always took an afternoon rest if he had a match in the evening.
8. After the draw of a tournament was known, he would train those players (sparring partners) in the same section of the draw as his opponents. Simulating his rivals’ styles he taught these players how to play as his rivals so as to weaken or even beat his potentially dangerous opponents.
9. Before a match Peng Soon always drank a glass of plain water and Brands chicken essence with a drop of soy sauce for flavour. It was obvious from his training programme and match preparation that this man was way ahead of his time. Peng Soon had knowledge of weights, resistance and endurance training, sports physiology and fluid and electrolyte replenishment. This knowledge is more than that of most coaches and players of today.
Peng Soon was modest and had impeccable court manners. After a rally, he always hit the shuttle back to his opponent only when the latter was ready and facing him. Unfortunately like all good players, there were many who were envious of his achievements. Some considered him arrogant and refused to acknowledge his skills as a badminton player
Peng Soon’s Training Programme
1. Sit ups.
3. Steel spring wrist strengthener.
4. Chinese clubs for wrist and arm strength.
5. Roman ring work-outs. Peng Soon could do the crucifix.
6. Dumb bell weights for arms and shoulders.
7 Skipping two to three times a week. Each session of one hour with very few mistakes like the rope catching the feet. This not only strengthened the wrist, arms, feet, calf and thigh muscles but also developed mental strength and concentration. This low impact exercise made him nimble and agile.
8. Rotational body and waist exercises.
9. Stretching for suppleness and injury prevention.
10. Occasional jogging.
11. In Kuala Lumpur he played three to four times a week with Selangor State players like Lim Koon Yam, Lai Fook Ying, Abdullah Piruz and myself. Peng Soon took us on one by one for a set, when the next fresh player would continue for another set. He often played one against two. We knew he always gave us a chance, and always hit the bird where we could just get it. He gave us opportunities to perform our best strokes and smashes so he could sharpen his own skills.
12. Peng Soon shadowed badminton on court regularly - alone, deep in concentration and not speaking a word. Obviously thinking how he could improve his game. He knew playing was insufficient - badminton is a thinking game.
13. He had rest days as he knew over-training could lead to staleness and injuries which he seldom had. Most were minor muscle strains, though he did have a torn right shoulder muscle which contributed to his loss to Dr David Freeman of the United States. This defeat was never avenged as Freeman retired soon afterwards to his neuro-surgical practice.
14. He took a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrate and fat.
15. He never smoked or drank alcohol.
16. He slept early.
Honouring Wong Peng Soon
Life was very routine till 16th November 1981. That night at about 2 a.m. I was called by Doreen Wong (Peng Soon’s wife) to see him urgently, as he had fallen on the floor and could not get up. When I got to his home in Seletar, I found he had a very bad stroke as well as high blood pressure. His right hand and right leg were completely paralysed. Those beautiful strokes and footwork we all admired were gone forever. He was 63 years old then. I also discovered he had, at the persuasion of his old friend Abdullah Piruz from Kuala Lumpur, been training to play a match against the current All-England ladies champion from Korea. Peng Soon, being a very proud man, never thought much of women players!! If I had known of this I would have persuaded him not to. It was a case of the spirit being willing, and the body weak. How could a sixty plus man play a fit young girl in her twenties?
It is quite a common phenomenon for badminton players to think they are immune to illness just because they are fit. They do not realize that they are only human and have to look after their diet, food, calorie intake and weight once their prime is over. Their risk of sickness is the same as an ordinary person. The players who have had coronary-by-pass surgery that I can think of are Rudy Hartono, Tjun Tjun, Lee Kin Tat, Charoen Wattanasin and many more.
Peng Soon was an invalid more or less after his stroke. He was hard to manage but long-suffering Doreen cared for him faithfully till his last days. I used to visit him at his home on and off to cheer him up. By this time he was a forgotten man and only a very few of his faithful followers were with him till the end. Towards the end when he was hospitalized at the Toa Payoh Hospital, I visited him and he very reluctantly allowed me to leave. His last words were "Come back and see me again, Master!" He called me "Master" !? I told him I would. His last words were genuine and from the heart; he knew he was going. Of all his protégés and pseudo-protégés, I can confidently say that, even if I did not reach the heights of this superb athlete, he was satisfied with my progress. He trusted Chong Jin and myself to be his physician in his last illness. He developed pneumonia and soon after and passed away on 22nd May 1996. He was 78 years old.
Uncle Peng Soon rest in peace. You are a great loss. The world has never seen a player like you and another one like you will not emerge for a long long time......
Just before the year 2000, my brother, Chong Jin, was asked by Mr. Wee Kim Wee - an ex-President of the Singapore and also an ex-journalist who had covered the Malayan Thomas Cup tournaments in the early days - to collect data for a story about the Great Wizard, namely, our uncle, Wong Peng Soon. Mr. Wee was very fortunate to be able to interview many people, including our mother, now 95 years of age and Peng Soon's closest cousin and who had fed and housed him, whenever he came up to K.L. for tournaments - and many of his former opponents. They were unanimous about the thing that made Peng Soon a class above the rest: his great determination to win. My brothers, Chong Jin and Chong Hau (who also reached the All-England semi-finals) learnt from Peng Soon the great spirit which rubbed onto us, the spirit of "never be beaten". If we lost once to an opponent, we would seek him out in another tournament and made sure we beat him. Chong Jin interviewed Peng Soon's childhood friends, like the Johore sugar king, Robert Kuok. Peng Soon hailed from J.B., where there were only grass court outdoors, so to improve his game he moved south to Singapore to join the Mayflower Badminton Party. There he met the late Ong Poh Lim, then an unknown from Sarawak, and helped the latter in his career. They became great friends and when there were difficulties in the first Thomas Cup team, Poh Lim would be the mediator. That great determination to win and the great deception skills were already there in the young Peng Soon. When Chong Jin could not get someone to write up the memoirs of that great legend, he passed it to Geoffrey Roberts of the Straits Times, who wrote a beautiful account when Peng Soon was chosen to be the Sportsman of the Century.
Chong Teik's brother, Chong Jin, at the Wong Peng Soon stand
in the Singapore Sports Museum.
It started with my first triathlon in 1985 when my wife, Chung Sook Yin, also a medical practitioner, and myself won the Clark Hatch Heptathalon competition to Hawaii. (Sook Yin, incidentally, studied at KGV and later at Oxford. She was Seremban junior golf champion with a handicap of 18. She was also a top marathoner runner here, and was the Number One Singapore National Triathlete in her younger days. She does not play badminton!) The events were a swim, a stretch test (with knees straight with the wrist touching the big toe), weights bench press, aerobics dance routine to music, 10 km and 400 metre run, maximum lying sit ups in two mins with both feet on the ground. Competition was very tough as most of the competitors from other Clark Hatch centres, and most had done Ironmen events before, that is, 2.5 mile swim, 112 mile bike, followed by a full marathon. The run was up the picturesque Diamond Head. The influence of the Hawaiian Ironman was so intoxicating I flew over to the Big Island Kona where the event was held over the hot and fiery lava fields, and surveyed the whole course, hoping to return one day. I was third in this competition. I still managed to run the 400 metre in 64 seconds at that age! From this began my foray into multi-sport events.
I had a very interesting race in the 1987 Penang triathlon 1987 where I took second place in the veterans division. The start point was the Penang esplanade with the gun going off as the sun broke the horizon. Emerging the sea, I found fire engines hosing the competitors down - they were all black, covered in oil from swimming! When the race was over and I returned to collect my equipment, I saw, at low tide, some six sewers draining out to the place where the triathletes had swum from the city!
In 1988, the bike race started at one of the hotels at Batu Ferringhi, and on a curvy downhill section I crashed after being edged off the narrow road at 40 kph by an inconsiderate lorry driver. Despite bleeding and a swollen right knee, I managed to get on my bike again and completed the 40 km lap and 10 km run in third place. I was about to leave for the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon in 1993, when a hip injury put paid to my dreams for that event.
Taking part in endurance events required discipline, a lot of research and reading. And also experimenting on oneself. I learnt weight training, interval training, fartleks, knowledge of diet in sports, as well as the very important fluid hydration and use of electrolyte replenishment. I have spoken often to audiences especially those about to embark on triathlons and marathons giving them guidance as to how to start safely without serious injury. I was also the medical director of the Singapore International Marathon, and for the Triathlon Association of Singapore. I was also the medical officer for the Singapore Badminton Association during their big tournaments like the Konica cup, after I stepped down from the Vice President's position.
I am also reminded of an Australian man I saw recently who was admitted with a fever for treatment. He was an aeronautical engineer and was always on his computer looking things up, as well as drawing diagrams on his graph paper with his compasses and set squares. He was of a slim and athletic build. As part of my medical history taking, I enquired if he was physically active. He said he liked climbing. So I asked if he had done Mt. Kinabalu. He replied he had done it three times. I then asked him how long it took him to climb it. He said three hours up and down. Now, my own family usually took four hours to get to Labuan Rata, the midway rest house and, after a good night's rest, another two and a half hours to the top. Going down is another three to four hours. I then asked him if he was involved in the annual Kinabalu race which carried a first prize of US$5000. He mentioned he was not. The winner's time in this race up and down Kinabalu is about 2hrs 40 mins. Then he revealed to me that he had climbed this mountain three times in A DAY - after breakfast, after lunch and then after tea!! I gathered he must have been training for something else big and, indeed, he had been. HE HAD JUST CLIMBED MOUNT EVEREST!! And this was the reason he had fallen ill and had come to see me. And this man was so modest about it too. Being a sportsman myself, you can't imagine the respect and admiration I immediately had for him! He eventually recovered after my care and plans to climb Everest again!
China's Approach to Badminton
The S.B.A. comittee were very sure getting China coaches would win them the Thomas Cup. I drew up a training programme plus gymnasium equipment (Cybex & Nautilius) for them and got the distributors to measure and put it in an appropriate place in the badminton hall all for about $75,000. The S.B.A. had about $5 million in the bank! The coaches were mainly from the provinces, and were quite happy to use very old antiquated, rusty barbells, which one associates with a scrap yard. Their reasoning: if we can use it, why can't you! They did not think of injuries and the impression foreigners get when they visit your hall. The Chinese coaches believe in quantity training rather than quality training. The players are always injured, with so much time spent that there is no time for studies. One of the China girls who first came here at the age of 14 years has now had operations on both knees!! And she is only 19 years old!! They are now recruiting more girls from China hoping to win the Uber Cup!! Of course, China will never send their elite over. Meanwhile the western countries use state-of-the art equipment. My project fell on deaf ears. Till today Singapore is still to do well at badminton.
My son, Zhi Hong, was a Singapore junior national trainee at the age of 12 under the Chinese coaches with the S.B.A. He had to go down to the S.B.A. badminton hall for training four to five times a week. He had to leave school at 4.30 p.m. catch a bus to the hall, and I would go and fetch him at 8.30 p.m. By the time he got home, it was almost 10 p.m., and after dinner, he was too tired to do his homework. Then he had to get up at 6.30 a.m. in time for school. I used to watch their training, and it was very regimented. If you are shown how to smash, you queue up with ten boys to do smashes for a minute. It will be 10 minutes before your turn comes so you sit out while others play. A lot of time wastage and waiting. Singapore boys cannot spend this kind of time that the Chinese coaches are used to. The academic system here does not allow it, if one plans to go to an institute of higher learning.
So Zhi Hong's academic performance deteriorated! I advised him not to go down so frequently, but I would train him instead at home. I had a concrete court made in our back yard like, of course, the old days in K.L. It was very windy and provided good experience. I made him skip, do circuit training, interval training, as well as road runs. Quality training was the idea. Zhi Hong played against me, even though I was handicapped by a hip injury - I used half a court while he played a whole court on his side. We did not play for more than an hour and then it was back to his books. Zhi Hong's studies picked up.
When he went back to the S.B.A. his ranking had improved considerably and he managed to beat players he could not do before. It was obvious the coach in charge was not happy with his attendance and with the fact that Zhi Hong was playing much better despite not training under him. And the punishment was subtle and devious! When his friends made up a foursome to play doubles with him, the coach intervened and took Zhi Hong out and replaced him with another boy saying that Zhi Hong was not ready to start doubles yet!! He had to sit out watching his friends play. He was later asked to play with six-year-old children!
At the end of the year the juniors toured Malaysia to play in KL and other places. My son was then in the top three of the group in the singles and expected to have a good chance of selection. But he wasn't selected, and he kept on asking why, as he was so much better than the others. It hurt him psychologically. So I took him out of the squad to play with some of my senior veteran friends, some ex-internationals who were excluded by the S.B.A. from coaching. Zhi Hong gained more from these seasoned veterans who enjoyed teaching a young boy and he made progress faster than when he was in the squad!
Sports Medicine and Badminton
About six years ago I was very surprised to see Indonesian Thomas Cupper, Heryanto Arbi in my clinic, brought there by another of my patients for a medical check-up because he was not winning against the Danish player, Poul Hoyer Larsen, who was then the All-England champion. At that time Arbi's ranking had fallen to ninth. After I had analysed his game and corrected his diet, fluid intake and training programme, Arbi went on to win the Konica Cup Men's Singles in Singapore and improved his ranking to third in the world. He had been playing on sheer badminton skill, but it is quite different when age is catching up. One has to modify one's game. This had never occurred to Arbi.
Badminton is a THINKING GAME if you are going to play it well. Time management is very important, as well as organisation of your free time. REST also is essential, for the body to recuperate, otherwise injuries and illnesses like flu and pneumonia supervene. The body can only take a certain amount of training. More does not mean better! The law of diminishing returns then kicks in. Recently, I had as a patient a very famous China player. He had been very talented, with good height, reach, good strokes and so on and had even won the All-England mens singles championship. Then, at the height of his career, I read that he had to lay off because of pneumonia, and had to rest. And now, I had him, here in Singapore where he had come to work, under my care. My tests and chest X-rays revealed he had an old healed pneumonia which was complicated. It revealed a poorly-treated infection which had led to pus formation in the pleural cavity (empyema). This in turn led to the lower third of the affected lung being encased in scar and fibrous tissue, thus limiting expansion and exchange of oxygen. I was in no doubt that he had been under great pressure to do well in the Thomas Cup and All-England tournament at that time. He just did not have enough rest! Although he could still play very well, his lasting power would not be the same, and he has not played in high level matches since then.
China has lots of hungry players, probably millions, and their methods are very tough. Most are discarded, due to injury. Only the elite survive but not for very long. Look at our Peng Soon, winning the All-England at 38 years of age! Being trained in the West, I base my knowledge and training programmes on scientific research, and research on myself. As an example, during long distance events or long badminton matches, I used to suffer from cramps. The conventional wisdom was it was caused by water loss, lack of training and so on. Therefore, drink pure water and train harder! For me it did not work - it only led to more problems and injury. Being a scientist, I weighed myself before exercise, for example, a 10 km run, and then after. The loss in weight, if it is 2 kgs, is equivalent to 2 litres of sweat loss. I then analysed the electrolyte content of my sweat (every individual's is different). The amount of sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium loss can then be calculated and replaced during exercise, as well as the amount of fluid one needs. I found I had a very high sodium chloride loss in my sweat. Replacing it appropriately before and during exercise cured my cramps! My badminton game also improved as well as the quality. Learning to use weights intelligently, improved muscle power together with flexibility and stretching reduced injury. Circuit training, that is, training under pressure for short periods raised the pain threshold, improved fitness and, with runs of suitable distances, improved stamina. The amount of time spent is much reduced and one can do other things like study! Strategy and tactics are very important. The Chinese train on court for hours. They become stereotyped, basing on speed and power. They all have the same style, so stroke play is lacking in many. As to why Danish players did so well at badminton, I went into their research papers, and found they had developed machines that strengthened muscles for specific strokes. Road work was also a feature, as well as stair climbing. All these are time saving. That is why most Danes have jobs. Some of the well-known ones are accountants, dentist, lawyers and so on. On the other hand, most players in Singapore end up as coaches with few exceptions.
On Being a Sportsman Father
I married late, at age forty. But I gave my two boys all the care, love, attention, companionship despite my busy schedule. I taught them to swim, cycle, play badminton. We ran together. I supervised their studies, brought them to school, tuition and so on. Some of their school friends innocently asked them, "Why is your father so much older than my father?" My sons also asked why I did not marry earlier. I replied with irrefutable logic, "If I had done so, you would not be around now, another brother would have taken your place! Ask your friends, do their fathers do what I do with you both?" There was no reply. I also told them an older father would be more secure financially to give them the opportunities in life, while a younger one would be still trying to establish himself. They both understood.
Holidays we always went together and most of them involved physical activity, like climbing Mount Kinabalu at the ages of seven and eight. We did the 65 km beautiful trek of Milford Sound in the South Island of New Zealand, moving like mountain goats and fording icy rivers. We have also been to Vancouver, Whistler and Blackcombe, where the boys learnt to ski and, in less than a week, they were at level five. With this background they did well physically in the Singapore Armed Forces. ZhiHao topped his unit in the obstacle course, and marched the full 30 kms in full battle kit, helmet, gun, full battle pack, and held the unit flag single-handedly without passing it on to his colleagues. And Zhihong is as fit as a commando, if not fitter, having topped the Singapore Triathlon closed event last year.
When I was preparing to take part in the Hawaiian Ironman event in 1993, I bought a Merlin titanium bicycle frame to prepare for the event. The application form for this event was standard except for the last section where applicants would be selected, based on a story or event that would be of interest to other Ironmen. Now, I had a very good story. In an earlier event the National Kidney Foundation had a triathlon, a 5 km run, 40 km bicycle, and a 5 km run. I finished the first run, and was 3 kms into the bicycle leg when, I heard a rattling noise from the rear wheel gear and then the clatter of falling screws. I managed to make it to the start point just as the gear came apart. There were mechanics to repair the bicycles, and I hoped to have the screw replaced. But, alas, they didn't have any screws! So I had to sprint back to the spot and look for the lost ones.
The participants on the bicycles must have thought I was crazy as I was running in the OPPOSITE direction to the bicycle race, as the second run had not started. I thought I had found the screw, but on taking it back to the mechanic, he told me there were two more. Doubling back AGAIN and looking around the grass verge and the road side, I finally found the two missing screws. I thought I had it all but, alas, on reaching the start point the mechanic told me one of the screws was correct but the other one was not! I ran back AGAIN and still could not find it. Then it crossed my mind that it might have rolled over to the opposite side of the expressway. I went across, dodging the traffic and managed to find two more screws and ran back again. On reaching the start point it was already sunset, and the last competitor had just finished the 5 km run. I had found the last screws, got them fixed to my gear, but now it was too late to start the 40 km bike segment! I decided to call it a day. This was my first DNF (Did Not Finish)!
My Merlin bicycle frame was kept in its original box by my bedside for the next ten years. When ZhiHong won the triathlon I gave the frame to him as I had had a hip injury by then and a triathlon would be out of the question for me. Well, if he ever decides at any time to take part in the Hawaiian Ironman event in the big island of Kona, he could apply and, with the help of my story in the application form and using my Merlin frame, he would surely get in! And all he would need say would be that he is riding for his father who waited two years too long to take part as he was helping them complete their important primary school exams!
Some Thoughts on Sports and Success by Chong Jin
"Many people ask of me and of sportsmen who have been outstanding in sports and in academia: 'How did you manage to excel in both, and can it can be achieved today?'
"Answer: (1) My brothers, Chong Teik and Chong Hau, were very fortunate to have very supportive parents, who wanted us to excel in both, and to this end ensured that we had, even at a very young age, the best tutors. We were never condemned when we lost, and although every one at home might be down-heartened, we learnt to rise from the fires of defeat, whether it was in studies (when, of course, we would fail some exams) or in badminton, (when we lost to an opponent). One of their mottos (if you like to call it that) was 'never be beaten more than once by the same obstacle. If you fail, research your failure(s), train or intensify the study method, and try again'.
"While in University, we had to time-plan very carefully throughout the week - for lectures, for three-four supervisors work per week, to complete our laboratory write ups - and time-plan for practice. We trained by running about five miles three times per week, sometimes in cold freezing conditions, doing uphill bicycle riding, circuit training, weights, and wrist strengthening exercises. It was a conquest of mind over body, and learning to withstand and be able to go through the pain barrier and of complete exhaustion.
"While we did not have strong opponents at Cambridge, we would play one against two or three. They would play on the singles court and they would have three services whereas I had one. We would start at different levels of handicap, for instance, very often they started off with service at 13-0 , and I would just have to stop them scoring that single point, or two points. Should I beat them, I would go back and start from minus 5, and they begin again at 13. It was a very useful exercise in mind discipline and concentration, not to make any errors right from the start of the match. Very often we would just practise one single shot fifty times until it was consistently accurate. Again it was a discipline of the mind, and we even did these exercises when we were very tired, for example, after a long run or a game. Yes, we were no different from any other undergraduate, except that medics always seem to be the most hard-pressed for time. But as medics, we always shared the same kind of joy and "sufferings" as we went through vivas and exam after exam. As for the sportsmen in our group, we just sighed at our load!
"Did we excel in our studies? My younger brother, Chong Hau probably did better than his two elder brothers. He not only represented Cambridge University in badminton (he was their captain as well), but he also won a full blue for playing against Oxford. He was also the number two in squash in England at that time and, at the same time, he had beaten Svend Andersen in the quarter finals of the All-England. Chong Hau also won our Downing College's prestigious scholarship, the Philley Scholarship, for a sportman who excelled in sports and badminton. I myself obtained an upper second class Honours in the final exams and later the highest degree awarded by the University, the Doctorate in Medicine (M.D. Cantab.) in 1975, after completing my research theses on how to create rejection of cancer cells. This book is now a reference text in the University Library in Cambridge.
"(2) Can it be achieved today? The badminton played in our time was an amateur sport, unlike the professional status it has today. We played at a time when we had great role models ...the Maestro (Wong Peng Soon), Law Teik Hock (the best), and Eddy Choong. They were heroes in our midst, and it was great to come from a camp where these names were legends. We don't see these today; we live only on memories! Can what we did be reproduced? Definitely yes. Our Master of Downing College tracked the careers of its undergraduates and their contribution to society 25 years later. They found that those who had done well in studies AND sports or extracurricular activities in the College became top professionals/CEOs, MDs and leaders in society, in contrast to those who had only attained First Class honours. Only a few of these had succeeded and most remained as back room boys in research establishments. They did not have the ability to adjust and some did not take kindly to the disappointment of a 'fall' in their careers.
"What was the lesson from this exercise? As sportsmen and academics, we had learnt at a very early age to ride the highs and the falls, from being celebrities to being non-entities, from feeling joy to shedding tears. Together with time planning, we were able to put items and problems into different boxes, and to sort them out differently to the best of our ability. I think these were some of the most important lessons we ever learnt, and could have contributed to our successes in our later professional lives."
My Own Final Thoughts
I learnt a great deal from badminton in the early part of my life, and later from the marathons and triathlons. If I had known of the last two before I took up the first, I would have been a much more accomplished badminton player. Sports also shaped my life and my personality. It taught me integrity, to be fair, humble, organized, have priorities right, be meticulous in preparation, leaving no stone unturned, and to be prepared for the unforeseen, as it always appears in one form or another. It also taught me communication and social skills as well as help develop my Emotional Quotient (EQ), enabling me to mix well with others, and to understand and to forgive their failings. But most important it has kept me healthy and fit, physically and mentally, without being visited by any major illnesses. I am able to perform my day to day work without being too fatigued, aided by a faster recovery capacity than others. Sports has taught me how to handle high pressure situations, enabling decisions to be made successfully and quickly.
The V.I. gave me a good start in life, and I am proud to be a V.I. boy. I am grateful to our headmaster of that time, Mr. Frederick Daniel, who was so understanding as to allow me in continue my studies at a time when I was totally focused on badminton and athletics to the exclusion of everything else. I am also grateful to my V.I. teachers for their patience towards me, as I was a very slow learner then. They include Mr Ganga Singh, Mr S. Murugesu, Mr Harry Lau, Mr Lim Eng Thye, Mr Yap Swee Kee, Mr S.C.E. Singam, Mr A.S. Samuel, Mr Lim Hock Han and many others whose names have faded with time. Being a late developer academic achievements only came later in my life.
Last but not least I am eternally grateful to my parents for bringing me up and for the love, support, encouragement and care given to me during the difficult times in my life. We owe our parents a debt which we can never repay. My mother is ninety-five today and, together with my younger brothers, I take care of her in her sunset years. At present I still do a full day's work, sharing my medical and sports experience with sportsmen, students, doctors, nurses, as well as healing my patients and serving humanity. Life is a long race. It only ends when you close your eyes forever…………
Live such a life that when you depart, everyone is weeping,
But you are smiling.
Oon Chong Teik
Last update on 19 July 2019.
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