Generation Grit
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Gen Grit: World’s No. 8 Loh Kean Yew Reflects His Sports Journey and How He Is Open To Doing Good
2023-02-28 12:21:00

Gen Grit: World’s No. 8 Loh Kean Yew Reflects His Sports Journey and How He Is Open To Doing Good

Generation Grit, or Gen Grit for short, documents the ferocity behind young Singaporeans. Passionate, driven and have a heart to call, many of these youths are taking it on their own to empower communities, all while embodying the co-operative values of self-help and mutual help. Here, we profile national shuttler Loh Kean Yew.

By Sng Ler Jun

Loh Kean Yew Singapore National Shuttler
Image Credit: Loh Kean Yew

If there is anything to glean from the national shuttler Loh Kean Yew, it’s that the world’s his oyster. At 26, he has cut his teeth at numerous competitive tournaments – including the Olympics, made the unconventional decision to give up academia for the sport and to hone his skills, won against two-time Olympic Champion and five-time World champion Lin Dan whom he grew up idolising, bested his rival-turned-friend, Olympic Champion Victor Axelsen, and became the first Singaporean to clinch the World Champion title in the 2021 Badminton World Federation World Championships.

Having forayed into the world of badminton at only four, Kean Yew recalls playing badminton with his siblings back in Penang, where he lived then. He had always admired his brother Loh Kean Hean, also a national shuttler, and aspired to be like him. “I started because I thought that it was fun,” he said in an interview with The HomeGround Asia. “(Kean Hean) played badminton so I also wanted to play badminton. I wanted to be as good as him, if not better. That’s the competitive streak in me.”

And he did.

Last year, he rose from world No.5 to No.3, his career high. Some two years ago, he was ranked 40th.

Loh Kean Yew by SNOC
Photo Credits: SNOC

“Two years ago, I was just looking to break into the top 30 and make it to the higher-tier events,” he said to The Straits Times. “Previously, I was often on the reserve list and had to pray I can qualify; my fate was determined by others withdrawing.”

But while we know Kean Yew as the Singaporean athlete with an explosive swing, court precision and agile manoeuvres, there is also the Kean Yew who makes time for others. When he is not stunning competitors on the court, he makes a point to contribute back to society whenever time permits.

In December 2021, he, alongside his teammate Yeo Jia Min and the Boys’ Brigade, went around the sunny island to deliver food hampers to beneficiaries of Boys’ Brigade’s Share-A-Gift project; he also spent an afternoon with children from the Singapore Red Cross’ Young Hearts programme during his break before the Singapore Badminton Open in July 2021. Kean Yew is also the ambassador for several non-profit organisations, including “Solibad – Badminton Without Borders” which pools human and financial resources from the badminton community to support humanitarian projects.

Read our exclusive interview with Loh Kean Yew, who reflected on his sports journey and how he is open to doing good too.

Loh Kean Yew
Yu MengYu and Loh Kean Yew are respectively Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year 2022. Photo Credits: SNOC

Sng Ler Jun: From the beginning till now, who are you most thankful for?

Loh Kean Yew: I am thankful for my parents for bringing me up and teaching me to be who I am today. I am also very thankful for my brother for inspiring me to pick up badminton and guiding me along the way.

Ler Jun: Who is Loh Kean Yew when he is not on the court?

Kean Yew: Off the court, Loh Kean Yew knows how to switch off. He seeks balance in resting physically and mentally. He is also a happy-go-lucky person who can be rather open-minded and chill about most things.

Ler Jun: Who is Loh Kean Yew on the court then?

Kean Yew: He is someone who doesn’t give up. Someone who will always try his best to make every shot count on the court.

Ler Jun: Having first trained with Olympic Champion Victor Axelsen and then beating him, you acknowledged that Victor is always focused on the court. Have you always been intimidated by him or any other players while playing?

Kean Yew: I’ve always enjoyed playing against strong players. While the challenge is more exciting when facing Victor, the pressures still always exist on the court regardless of whom I face.

Ler Jun: How would you advise younger athletes to go about overcoming this intimidation?

Kean Yew: It is important to have the right mindset under different circumstances. Hard work is needed to build strong self-belief. When challenging stronger opponents, knowing that you have put in your 110% will help overcome intimidation. Finally, be daring to challenge, and know that you have prepared your best to face whatever obstacle you meet.

Ler Jun: You are recently finding purpose in inspiring the younger generation and opening up conversations about the sport. How did you feel when someone tells you that you are his/her inspiration?

Kean Yew: I feel happy knowing that people have found inspiration through me and I was able to motivate them to reach for their goals. I truly believe that nothing is impossible when you put your mind to the task.

Photo Credits: SNOC

Ler Jun: To be a competitive athlete is to acknowledge losing is part of the game. What do losses mean to you?

Kean Yew: Every loss is an opportunity to learn from others and from yourself, the most important part of losing is to pick yourself up and try again.

Ler Jun: What has been the greatest challenge you faced while training to be a pro?

Kean Yew: Injuries and personal sacrifices are some of the bigger challenges I face as a professional athlete.

Ler Jun: You, together with national shuttler Yeo Jia Min, previously volunteered your time for The Boys’ Brigade in Singapore. You mentioned how it’s good to give back to society and that you hope to participate in similar projects when your schedule allows. In the future, how would you want to contribute back to society?

Kean Yew: When schedules allow, I hope to give back to the society in ways that I can. But in the meantime, I leverage social media to raise awareness on the causes that matter. 

Ler Jun: To end the interview, let’s recap. Why do you do what you do?

Kean Yew: I started because it was fun. Now, I get to do what I love which is even better. I chose to do this because it isn’t easy, I have grown in ways I can never imagine, and there is still so much to learn. I am very lucky to have the relentless support from fans and people around me and know that I was able to inspire even just one person, it is good enough.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
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