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Asian Games profile: The eye of the Tiger

An ancient Chinese tale tells of a race among animals, with the sequence they finished determining the 12-year zodiac cycle’s order. First came the rat, then ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

At the Sept 23-Oct 8 Asian Games in Hangzhou, Singapore’s 431-strong contingent will also be racing for honours. The Straits Times features 12 athletes, each corresponding to one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. In the third profile of the series, Rohit Brijnath chats with badminton star Yeo Jia Min.

What’s been the hardest moment of the last few years?

To be honest, I was having quite a slump. I would say around two years ago. I lose confidence in myself every time I lose a match. So that was what I was struggling with. I would always have to pick myself up after every game. I couldn’t find the breakthrough to remind myself of the strengths that I have again.

I was dropping in ranking as well… and I worry if I can qualify for the top competitions again… So my coach decided to send me for a lower-tier competition for me to go and hopefully win it (she did) and get my confidence back up.

The real breakthrough was just trying to find peace before my match. So actually that whole week when I was in Poland, I just prayed a lot and listened to worship songs throughout the day until before my match. So I had a lot of peace from God at that time. Just day by day, I wanted to find that joy and confidence from a higher power. So that really helped me and as I win, one match by one match, I gain more and more confidence.

What’s it like playing when you don’t have confidence?

If you are without that 100 per cent belief, you will hesitate on shots. If you have confidence, you go for it. When you have that doubt, you think twice before you hit a shot. And that’s where you lose that speed, you lose that commitment on the shot, and then the quality will drop and that affects the whole game. Then you lose the point and you think, ‘oh, yeah, I’m not good at this’, and so it can be a cycle.

How does your faith help you?

As I grow in my faith, I don’t fear losing as much. Yes, I’m an athlete and my goal is definitely to win but that’s not my identity 100 per cent. If I lose, I’m a failure? No. Having that assurance that I’m more than just an athlete on court. Outside, I’m also a friend to someone, I’m a daughter to my mum, and also a child of God. That’s the core of who I am. I don’t play for the approval of others. So that gives me that peace in myself.

How long does a bad loss stay with you?

I will always remember, but maybe two days. I don’t have the luxury of time to dwell on my loss too much. What helps me come back is my next training session… Another thing is usually if you give me good food, I’ll feel a bit better (laughs).

What’s it like when you’re playing well?

I’ll be gliding around the court well… I mean as you play and as shots come, you grow in confidence, then you feel that you have more options, you have more time.

What’s the hardest day of practice?

There will be various kinds of hard days of practice. If you talk about mentally hard, for example, coming back from Australia I strained my Achilles. So it’s like, I really, really want to train, but I still have to know to stop myself from training. That feeling like you want to train but you can’t train.

When you go home are you so tired you can’t do anything?

I sometimes go back home for lunch and at the table I’ll be like, ‘I want to sleep, I don’t want to eat’. Sometimes I’ll eat just to get it in my system and then I’m running for my bed.

What do you love about competition?

I like that it’s always a fresh start. It’s who does it better on the day. It’s me against myself, me against my opponent, me against pressure from people. After every match, I get to know myself a bit better, of how I deal with competition.

Do you think people don’t understand the speed at which you all play?

Maybe they don’t understand where the speed comes from. “Oh, he smashes and goes to the front very fast.” But it can be because of his recovery from shots that allows him to have that speed or his anticipation or reading of the game that allows him to be fast. You can tell that he’s fast but why is he faster than other people? It’s his ability to pressure the opponent and anticipate very well, so that’s why he’s fast. 

In what way are you like your zodiac animal – the tiger?

You know, it’s very funny because my birthday is first February… so sometimes I’m a tiger and sometimes I’m like a rabbit. I aim to bring out the tiger in me on court.

And rabbit?

I can be friendly with people. But just don’t let people eat me up, of course (laughs).

Name: Yeo Jia MinAge: 24Asian Games event: Women’s singlesAchievements: Polish Open 2023 (1st), women’s singles Commonwealth Games 2022 (bronze)

More On This Topic

National badminton player Yeo Jia Min riding out a season of ‘ups and downs’

Team Singapore flag off Chinese zodiac race at the Asian Games

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