Badminton world no. 1 Kento Momota injured in Malaysian car crash, driver killed

KUALA LUMPUR – Badminton world No. 1 Kento Momota has been injured in a car accident in Malaysia, with the driver of the vehicle killed in the crash.

The pre-dawn vehicle collision took place along the Maju Expressway early Monday morning (Jan 13), just hours after he secured his first victory of the season at the Malaysia Masters. 

The Japanese shuttler was with three other players en route to Kuala Lumpur International Airport when the hired van they were in rammed into the rear of a 30-tonne truck, the local fire and rescue department said in a brief statement. Pictures showed the front of the van crushed against a lorry but the back section appeared intact.

The driver of the van, named as N. Bavan, was killed in the accident. The fire and rescue department said it was still working to extricate the driver’s body from the wreckage. 

Momota and the others – named as the Japanese player’s compatriots Yu Hirayama, Morimoto Arkifuki and Englishman William Thomas by official news agency Bernama – suffered slight injuries, the department said. 

Malaysian daily The Star said Hirayama, 35, and Morimoto, 42, are part of the Japanese coaching team while Thomas is a Badminton World Federation (BWF) court official.

The vehicle crashed into the back of a lorry, which was travelling slowly, Bernama reported.

“The victim’s body and all the injured” were sent to hospital in the administrative capital Putrajaya, fire and rescue department senior official Norazam Khamis was cited as saying.

The injured “were able to walk out of the van by themselves with some scratches”, he added. 

The survivors were reportedly in a stable condition, according to a statement from Serdang police.

This was confirmed by Malaysian Tan Kim Her, who is the men’s doubles coach for the Japanese national team. 

“They are in stable condition but are currently under observation for another six to seven hours to see if they are okay,” The Star quoted him as saying.

“It’s truly tragic, especially involving a badminton icon like Momota,” Malaysian sports minister Syed Saddiq told reporters after visiting the injured in hospital. But he added those hurt were “recovering well, (and) all four are also in stable condition”.

The others hurt suffered facial, leg, hand and head injuries, according to the police.

The Badminton Association of Malaysia said in a statement it was “saddened” by what happened.

The incident has cast a pall over Momota’s celebrations after he had captured the Malaysia Masters title with ease on Sunday, when he beat Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 24-22, 21-11.

It remains to be seen if the accident will affect his preparations for the upcoming Olympics, where he is bidding to win a first gold at his home Games - the only major individual title to elude him so far.

The reigning world champion had told reporters that he was eyeing more success in 2020 after Sunday’s victory.

Momota, currently the best player on the planet, enjoyed a stellar 2019, winning a record 11 titles including the World Championships, Asia Championships and All England Open. 

“My condition was not perfect coming into this tournament, but I was focused on this week and was able to play calmly,” said the Japanese star, who pocketed US$30,000 (S$40,500).

“I do not think I am the strongest, but I am sharp and confident especially after winning the World Tour Finals last year. I know when to focus on attack and defence.” 

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