Shy teen's wins speak volumes

She speaks so softly that over an hour-long lunch, Yeo Jia Min - jetlagged after a long flight home from Peru and recovering from a nasty bout of gastric flu - constantly but patiently repeats herself to a table full of inquisitive strangers.

Slightly hesitant, the national badminton player reveals she is a fan of Korean variety show Running Man.

She has watched enough episodes to be conversant in the language herself.

In between giggles, she tells you she likes to sing. Probe further to find out what songs she fancies, and all you get from the bashful teenager is a brief "anything".

It is when the topic shifts to badminton that one gets a sense of the kind of focused fervour that drives the 16-year-old on court.

As top seed at the Badminton Asia Under-17 Junior Championships last month in Indonesia, Jia Min dispatched home favourite Sri Fatmawate 21-15, 21-13 to lift the singles title, becoming the first Singaporean to triumph on this stage.

Barely an hour later, she was back on court at the Stadium Gor Djarum Jati in Kudus, Central Java, this time celebrating the doubles title with partner Crystal Wong.

They beat Japan's Natsu Saito and Rumi Yoshida 21-18, 21-18.

For her achievements, Jia Min earned The Straits Times' Star of the Month award for October. The accolade is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year award, which was launched in 2008. Both are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

Said ST's deputy sports editor Lee Yulin: "Some athletes struggle to cope with the burden of expectation. It is heartening to see that Jia Min does not.

"The fact that she won twice in a day, and beat a player backed by the home crowd on top of that, bodes well for her future."

Going into the same tournament where she was joint-third last year and the U-15 singles winner in 2013, Jia Min had the burden of expectations weighing on her petite frame.

But having just recovered from an injury that kept her out of action for about a month this year, she admitted that she was not in the best state of mind.

No wonder this victory has done wonders for her.

Said the teenager: "This tournament gave me more confidence.

"I feel like it was a breakthrough for me.

"It wasn't very easy because I had many difficult matches but I managed to pull through in the end."

With the loss of several senior shuttlers in recent years, Jia Min's rise is a welcome and timely one for the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA).

Said national chief coach Chua Yong Joo: "Jia Min is a disciplined athlete who knows what she wants from training.

"She still has a long way to go to become a world-class player but she has great potential and has proven herself.

"She will definitely be an integral part of our team in the future."

Next year, Jia Min will be pencilled in for more senior-level tournaments, no longer just competing alongside her peers but also the best in the business.

It will mean a big jump in intensity, against opponents who have vastly greater experience and superior skills. The biggest challenge, she said, will be the test of her mental fortitude.

At this point, towards the end of the conversation, there is no hesitation, no humming or hawing.

"Now, I feel quite confident of breaking through on the international circuit one day," she said.

"This was a small stepping stone to bigger tournaments next time."

This shuttler speaks softly, but then again, all she needs is for her feats on court to speak for her.

This article was first published on November 21, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.