Little girl, big ambitions

Before it got all serious, before the egos and endorsements, there was sport in its most distilled form - one kid standing across another.

On the great equaliser of the sporting arena, there was only one question.

It wasn't about reputations or preparations, it was a far simpler one - am I better than you?

Racket in hand, that appeared to be exactly what Goh Jin Wei asked of Thailand's Nichaon Jindapon yesterday.

The 15-year-old Malaysian (above) was standing across the Thai ranked 36th in the badminton world order, out on the main court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.

It was the SEA Games badminton women's singles quarter-final, but Jin Wei could just as well have been at the neighbourhood court in her native Penang - it appeared that nothing else mattered.

She held out to win 21-16, 23-21, even after trailing by as much as five points in the first set, and remaining unfazed after dropping three match-points in the second.

With no play-off for bronze, Jin Wei has assured herself of a medal in her first Games appearance - and like every kid who thinks himself invincible - she quietly believes she can do better. "I don't even know the draw, it doesn't matter who I play," she said.

"But I hope I can make the final, I've got nothing to lose," added the cherubic Jin Wei, still bouncing - literally - when she met the media.


"There was a lot of pressure - she is ranked in the (top 40) of the world - and in the third set, my speed dropped...and my thinking also slowed down, but she didn't play so well," she said of Nichaon.

"I definitely did not expect this, just tried my best to play and I'm happy to contribute to the medal tally, even if it ends up as a bronze."

The 1.58m-tall Jin Wei is the only Malaysian left in the competition, after 24-year-old Tee Jing Yi fell to Thailand's Busanan Ongbumrungpan 2-0 in the later quarter-final fixture yesterday.

She will face Hanna Ramadini, the Indonesian who beat Singapore's Liang Xiaoyu yesterday, in today's semi-final.

"I played against Hanna before, last year, and I won, but she injured her leg," said Jin Wei, for whom reputation and history don't matter.

Indeed, she insisted that the rest of Malaysian shuttlers do not treat her like the baby of the team.

"No, no, they treat us all the same," she said.

And why not?

Jin Wei saved the Malaysian women in the team event, holding her nerve to beat Vietnam's Nguyen Thuy Linh 21-19, 18-21, 21-11 in the quarter-final, as Malaysia trailed 2-1 in the tie.

They bounced back to triumph 3-2 and eventually win silver.

But the child in Jin Wei jumped up from behind the hard-nosed badminton player, when asked of her idol, Ratchanok Intanon.

The Thai teen sensation won the Badminton World Federation World Championships in 2013, aged just 17, and Jin Wei has already been compared to the Thai who is in Singapore for the SEA Games, but not registered in the women's singles.

"Ratchanok is my idol, if I can meet her here, it'll be great," said Jin Wei, who was pleased at beating Ratchanok's Thai compatriot.

Not bad for a kid who has no family history in the sport.

"I started playing only when I was six, because I always liked to stay at home and my mother wanted me to get out of the house," said Jin Wei.

Her mother wanted her to get out of the house in Penang, and she did.

She came all the way down, past Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, and now stands on the cusp of climbing to the top of South-east Asia.

Young ones do have a tendency to take things to their extreme ends but, in this case, the little Penang girl will have the backing of an entire country.


This article was first published on June 15, 2015.
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