Badminton...it continues to give me heartaches, goosebumps and unbridled joy in equal measure.
In 1992, I was a mere rookie, lost in the ensuing mayhem immediately after Rexy Mainaky's weak retrieval hit the net following Soo Beng Kiang's smash ended the nation's 25-year wait for the Thomas Cup to return to KL. I was practically hanging on to the seniors, listening to the utterances by Elyas Omar, Annuar Musa, Punch Gunalan, Rashid Sidek and his siblings.
I learn a lot by observing Nasir Ahmad conducting his interview with Misbun Sidek. Misbun was the most appropriate choice as BH's columnist, with Nasir, who had been covering badminton since his Utusan Malaysia days in the 80s, as the ghost-writer. Misbun's column was called Sekilas bersama Misbun...but Nasir was the brains behind it, with Zian Johari's nod of approval. Misbun is a dream for sports journos for he likes to come up with quotable quotes and interesting angles.
The following months, badminton dominated the headlines. Not long after the memorable victory, I was tasked to interview the Sideks at Kg Kanchung Darat, Banting. Though I was initially reluctant to join the weekly Jaguh, it dawned on me later that the stint provided me ample opportunity and time to mingle and get to know the athletes better.
In 1994, I was a sidekick to Norbakti Alias, content on covering the Uber Cup, where I spent most of the time ogling at Bang soo-hyun of South Korea. With no pressure whatsoever to come up with Thomas Cup main stories, I was happy to contribute one or two fillers, nothing earth-shattering, just to indicate to the bosses in KL that I was not on vacation. But in Jakarta, Bakti and former NSC director of international preparations, Phua Tai Neng, were under the impression that I was spending most of the time shopping. This I categorically deny (hehe). Each morning Khalid Redza, the legendary NST pixman, would wake me up and then go to the gym of the Jakarta Hilton before having breakfast. There you could practically share a table with the team, namely Rashid, Cheah Soon Kit-Soo Beng Kiang and the debutant pair, Tan Kim Her-Yap Kim Hock. The routine was to look for side stories during the practice session on top of the normal daily report.
The worst part in covering badminton is the timing. The games are usually dragged beyond the deadline. It was customary those days that we sent our stories for first edition (for Sabah and Sarawak readers) by 10.30pm. Deadline for the final edition was 12midnight. Imagine if the final game ended at 11.30pm, you have to take notes and interview and then file in your stories in a matter of a few minutes. Remember, the scoring system was played to 15 points.
On one of the few occasions that the matches dragged almost beyond the deadline, I raised my voice to the then assistant sports editor, Abdul Ghafar Ismail, who was adamant that stories be filed in earlier, in our telephone conversation. (At the press centre, pay phones were a must). "Argh, wei ingat kita kat sini cuti ke"...words coming from someone who was on his overseas assignment. Oh, then I thought: "that's it, this is my first and only overseas assignment". Was it?