Badminton duo overcome injuries to make history for Singapore
Had you asked Singapore shuttlers Howin Wong and Aaron Yong two years ago if they could achieve an unprecedented feat in badminton this year, the 18-year-olds would probably have scoffed at the idea.
The doubles pair had been close to walking away from the game then, after suffering injuries that required surgery. They were out of action for at least a year.
In 2017, Yong tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while Wong suffered an elbow injury.
But, last month, the Singapore Sports School (SSP) student-athletes made history at the Badminton Asia Junior Championships at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre in China.
The duo, who are on customised polytechnic programmes with SSP, became the first-ever Singapore boys' doubles pair to win a medal at the competition - a continental tournament that crowns the best under-19 badminton players across Asia.
They won bronze, defeating opponents from Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and India at the July 20-28 competition before succumbing to Chinese pair Di Zi Jian and Wang Chang in the semi-finals.
Yong, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic business studies student, told The New Paper: "We were not aware that Singapore had not won a boys' doubles medal.
"We just prepared well for each game and focused on each point. But, of course now, it's a great feeling to have won a medal and made history at the same time."
Wong, a Republic Polytechnic sport management student, said: "Without our coaches, teachers and friends, we wouldn't be able to do it."
The comeback from injuries have also definitely made it sweeter.
Wong said: "One year is a long time to be out and I did consider (quitting), but my parents and coaches were always encouraging me.
"(The bronze) is a sign of both of our progress and it's nice but it really makes us even more motivated now."
National doubles coach Pribadi Setia Atmaja, 38, paid tribute to the boys' mental strength.
He said: "It was a strong field (in Suzhou) but they kept giving their best.
"They have a very, very good mindset. They are strong mentally and are always focused, in training and matches."
Wong and Yong, who are close friends, are eyeing the 2021 SEA Games in Vietnam.
Said Yong: "We think similarly and we are aggressive on court. We know our roles well- I handle the back court and he takes the front.
"I had four other partners before I paired up with him and it has worked well for us.
"Right now, I would say the hard work has paid off but there is more to be done and we are going to work harder."