Paddler Yong Han sets his sights higher

PENANG’s promising player Leonard Lai Yong Han is now eyeing the Asian Junior & Cadet Table Tennis Championships to be held in Vientiane, Laos, in September.


The 15-year-old Chung Ling High School student is keeping his fingers crossed that Malaysia would send a team to the Asian Junior & Cadet Table Tennis Championships and that he would be one of the players selected.


Yong Han, with his father Kong Yeow, and mother Lim Chooi Lan, and coach Sky Chin (right) in a joyous mood.


His optimism is understandable based on his stunning performances in the 2022 South East Asian Junior & Cadet Table Tennis Championships held in Bangkok on June 17-22.


Yong Han surprised many to win the SEA Cadet boys’ singles title by beating Ellsworth Le of Singapore 4-3 in a thrilling final.


What was even more remarkable was that he overcame two players whom he had lost in the group matches en route to the final.


In the first round, he unexpectedly knocked out Singapore’s top-ranked Nicholas Tan 3-0, whom he had lost by a similar margin in the team championships.


In the quarter-finals, he swept aside Indonesia’s Muhammad Naufal Juninora 3-0, avenging his 1-3 defeat in the group encounter.


Coach Sky Chin keeps inspiring Yong Han during the singles final.


“When I met them in the individual event, I did not feel any pressure as I had lost to them earlier in the team championships.


“Thanks to my coach (Sky Chin), we went through video recordings of my matches against them and studied our weaknesses and strengths.


“The game analyses helped me a lot. They prepared me on how to counter them in our subsequent clashes,” Yong Han said.


Yong Han (centre), with the champion trophy, and other medal winners at the prize presentation

For his father Lai Kong Yeow, 44, and mother Lim Choon Lan, 43, watching their son play and win the tournament in Bangkok was like a miracle.


“Frankly, we did not have high hopes because he had just lost to both the Singapore and Indonesia players.


“We’ve to thank the coach for inspiring him to play his best,” said Lai, a former national youth player himself.


The Malaysian team members giving their strong support to Yong Han.


Most unforgettable for them was the pulsating final between Yong Han and Ellsworth Le, ending with Yong Han winning 4-3 (7-11, 9-11, 13-11, 11-5, 5-11, 11-4, 12-10).


Lai, a businessman, was so excited that he broadcast the match live on his Facebook.


Besides the Cadet (Under-15 boys) singles gold medal, Yong Han also bagged a bronze medal in the doubles with his Yew Yan Bin from Kuala Lumpur. They were also in the Malaysian Cadet boys’ team who finished runners-up to Singapore in the team final.


Yong Han picked up the game at the age of seven and soon thereafter, he joined over 20 other fellow players from Global Sports Club for a one-month training stint in China.


“The training there was very strict. The coaches punished us severely when we did not follow their instructions or made mistakes. But it was a good lesson,” he recalled.


Yong Han’s favourite player is Taiwan’s star player Lin Yun Ju, nicknamed ‘The Silent Assassin’ for his calm demeanour and attacking style.


Yong Han is the eldest of three siblings. The other two – Yong Xuan, 14, from SMK Chung Hwa, and  Yong Ren, 11, from SJKC Kwang Hwa are also talented table tennis players.


Occasionally, Yong Han and Yong Xuan are sent by their parents to compete in a few tournaments in Thailand, especially at the Fashion Mall in Bangkok which hosts several table tennis tournaments a year in its huge hall.


Yong Han rejoicing as he turns to the Malaysian camp after clinching the winning point.

Like their parents, coach Sky Chin is also very proud of Yong Han’s success at the SEA Junior and Cadet Table Tennis Championships.


“This is a good achievement for him. We did quite a lot of preparation for the tournament. What I like about Yong Han is his good attitude.


“There is still a long way to go, and we must take it step by step.  Very importantly is that he needs to be exposed to more competitions to gain confidence,” said Chin, who coaches a number of players at the Global Sports Solution in Tanjung Bungah.


Parents who are interested to send their children for training can contact Sky Chin at 012-2940521, Peng Jia Ping in Bukit Mertajam (012-4737655) and Coach Tan in Sungai Ara (012-5641093).


Story by K.H. Ong

Pix by K.H. Ong and courtesy of Lai Kong Yeow