Singapore’s badminton future takes a hit as Gu and Zhang do a Li Li
By Low Lin Fhoong
NINE months ago, Singapore’s No 1 female shuttler Li Li sent shockwaves through the local badminton fraternity when she quit the sport, citing fatigue.
The 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist (women’s singles) was a member of Project 0812, a $7-million government initiative to help athletes achieve medal success at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and/or the 2012 London Games.
Since Li Li quit earlier this year, Singapore’s female shuttlers have failed to perform on the international stage.
At the Beijing Games in August, Xing Aiying crashed out of the women’s singles after losing 2-0 to Belarus’ Olga Konon in the round of 64, while Jiang Yanmei and Li Yujia were beaten 2-0 by Korea’s Lee Hyo Jung and Lee Kyung Won in their women’s doubles quarter-final.
Now, the women’s squad have taken another hit.
Today understands that shuttlers Zhang Beiwen and Gu Juan left the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA) in April and July, respectively. The two players, who are both 18 years old, were part of the 10-member youth team — consisting of five boys and five girls — who beat Malaysia to win an historic bronze for Singapore at the 2007 World Junior Championships in New Zealand last October.
Gu was also a member of the silver-medal winning women’s team at last December’s SEA Games in Korat, Thailand.
According to sources, Gu has returned to China to further her studies, while Zhang’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Graduates of the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, the two players had received their citizenship in May last year, but quit the sport after disagreements with the women’s singles chief coach, Wang Junjie.
“The athletes felt the coach was only concentrating on Li Li and Aiying, and felt neglected,” an SBA source told Today.
The women’s team will defend their silver medal at the 2009 SEA Games in Laos next year, and reaching the SBA’s target of a finals spot in the 2012 Uber Cup could prove a challenge for the shuttlers.
“I think there will be a vacuum in the succession of players,” added the source.
“They will not be doing as well as the 2007 SEA Games … and unless SBA are able to bring in champions, there is no way they can succeed in both the women’s team and individual events.”
SBA president and Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan neither confirmed nor denied the departure of Gu and Zhang when contacted yesterday.
“It suffices to say that SBA attaches great importance to players’ training and development, and building up a pipeline for succession,” said Lee.
“Whenever we are able to recruit strong players to the national team, our team get strengthened. Whenever we lose them or are not able to groom the younger ones in time to take over, our team would not be at the peak.
“Our immediate objective is to prepare for the 2012 Olympics, while taking seriously the SEA Games next year and other key tournaments between now and then to mature our team.”
Despite media reports that Li Li, 25, could return to the SBA at the end of the year, the association could not confirm the news when contacted, stating that it was not SBA’s policy to discuss individual players’ training and selection.