I had the privilege of meeting four individuals who formed the core of the 1992 team - two who were the brains outside the court, and the other two who sweated it out on it!
Tan Sri Elyas Omar provided leadership and direction. Chief coach Datuk Punch Gunalan did not leave any stone unturned and as a champion in his own right, he knew what to do to create an environment conducive to success. As captain, Razif Sidek kept the team spirit intact. Cheah Soon Kit was one half of the pair that clinched the winning point.
"It took us half a decade to prepare a team that were able to win the Cup. The seeds were sown when we launched project Thomas Cup/Uber Cup/Olympic Games (TUO), modified from a similar project by KLBA of which I was president.
"Appointing coaches from China, beginning with Fang Kaixiang, was a masterstroke. He was a real master but I must reveal the final say even on team selection rested on my shoulders.
"It was a collective effort and decision. I remember vividly having to convince Fang that we must play Misbun Sidek as first singles, followed by Foo Kok Keong and Rashid Sidek in the 1988 semi-finals. Fang wanted to push Kok Keong as first singles, with Rashid second. I argued if Rashid, a greenhorn, was to play Eddy Kurniawan, he would have been outplayed."
So the memorable 1988 semi-final line-up read: Misbun v Icuk Sugiarto, Kok Keong v Eddy Kurniawan, Rashid v Ardy Wiranata, Razif-Jalani Sidek v Eddy Hartono-Rudy Gunawan and Cheah Soon Kit-Ong Beng Teong v Bobby Ertanto-Liem Swie King.
As it turned out, Misbun played like a man possessed. He lost but Icuk was made to sweat by Misbun's baseline lobs.
"Our message to Misbun then - play all out because your brothers are watching. Give them the right signal. Fight," said Elyas.
Kok Keong however went down tamely to Kurniawan. The score stood at 2-0.
Rashid in contrast was fired up by Misbun's gallant display. Asian junior champ in 1986, having beaten Allan Budi Kusuma, Rashid adopted an attacking strategy against Ardy, two years his junior. Ardy was outplayed. Rashid bagged the all-important point.
Enter Razif-Jalani, the 1982 All-England champions renowned for their impregnable defence.
"It was a result of training over the years. From young we were exposed to flicking the shuttle against the wall. And the normal practice was to have our sparring partners delivering dropshots and smashes standing on a table," Razif recalled.
Hartono-Gunawan were attacking-minded. A game of contrasts but a spectacle for the crowd. By the third set, Hartono was overcome by fatigue, having failed to penetrate Razif-Jalani's defensive strategy. At one point the Indonesians executed 17 smashes in succession without making the kill. The tables turned, Razif-Jalani attacked Hartono relentlessly.
2-2. Beng Teong, known more as a singles player, partnering a rookie in the doubles, Soon Kit, who was a non-playing reserve in the 1986 edition. For Soon Kit, it must have been a dream coming up against Swie King, one of his idols who made jumping smash a fashion.
"The Indonesian pair were World Cup winners a year earlier, so they were the favourites," said Soon Kit. "But we knew Swie King was no longer the Swie King of old. Beng Teong guided me, acted as my mentor while I concentrated on playing to my strength, delivering smashes from the baseline.
Malaysia lost to China in the 1988 final. But Malaysia had overcome a mental barrier by beating the Indonesians and entering the final for the first time since 1967. A giant step had been taken.
the Star pic
Soon Kit is into numerology nowadays