| Fadhil Yunus |
JASPAR Yu Woon Chai looks set to become the first badminton player to represent Brunei in the Rio Olympics this month.
Getting a place in the grandest stage of all marked a realisation of a dream for the much-storied shuttler after years of establishing a career which had demanded a lot of hard work.
Jaspar’s acceptance as one of three players eligible to play in the Olympics under the Tripartite Commission by the IOC has been helped by his journey attending training stints in Japan.
The Brunei top-ranked shuttler was first discovered by Hiroshi Okouchi in 2005, now widely known as the Commissioner of International Affairs of the Nippon Badminton Association.
In 2010, top Japanese national players arrived in the Sultanate to play in the Yonex Brunei Open Ike Shio Cup which was organised by the Brunei National Badminton Association and the Nippon Badminton Association with the support of the Embassy of Japan.
The Brunei’s top shuttler was also invited to play in an exhibition game against a top 10 mixed doubles team at the Indoor Stadium.
During the same period, Jaspar has already won the national title and Okouchi outlined his plans to help accelerate his growth and learn as well as seek advice from the Japanese national team.
In 2014, Jaspar was accepted in the highly-rated NTT East badminton team for a seven-month training stint.
Universiti Brunei Darussalam has been central to his development after coming up with the sponsorship through the Discovery Year Programme.
“UBD understands how to promote his (Jaspar) badminton. My association (Nippon Badminton Association) arranged for UBD and him to come to the national ranking club,” Okouchi said in an interview.
Japanese’s world ranked players Ken Momota and Kenichi Tago were esteemed members of the NTT East which is regarded as the top badminton club in Japan.
The training that Jaspar went through is not the same as in Brunei where he learnt training methods accustomed by the top Japanese players.
At the same period, Japan was the best team in the world after winning the prestigious Thomas Cup.
The Brunei shuttler has since been busy joining world ranking tournaments which helped accumulate his world ranking points.
After learning that he was eligible to play in the Olympics through the Tripartite Commission on May 25 this year, Jaspar returned to Japan to train with the Yonex Japan badminton team where he spent a month there. He was previously attending a training camp in Kuala Lumpur.
Okouchi emphasised that this type of structure or system can be adopted in other sports through collaboration with professionals.
“Through his efforts, he got an invitation to compete in the Olympics,” Okouchi affirmed.
The current world number 408 hopes to do his best in the Olympics debut and make the country proud adding that it is an important chance for him.
“In terms of fear or nervousness, there is a bit but I won’t be affected. Whether my best is enough to win or not, it is a different story. But what I can do and what I can assure is I’ll do my best and hopefully my best is enough to make Brunei proud,” he said in an interview.
Asked how he would approach the biggest tournament of his life, Jaspar replied, “I would definitely savour the moment but there’s mixed feelings. I’d like to approach it like in any other tournament so that I won’t have extra pressure but at the same time it is a very important moment.”
Jaspar’s coach Zuno Kartono Haji Ali has aided in the homework through the video collection and the duo will be taking points during the video analysis as part of their extensive preparation.
Meanwhile, local sprinter Maizurah Abdul Rahim is set to become the second female Olympian to represent Brunei after Maziah Mahusin, who took part in the London 2012 Olympics.
“I am really excited to compete in the Olympics but at the same time there’s a bit of nerves. I hope that I can perform well there,” Maizurah said in an interview with the media.
“I hope I can break my personal best there. Training has gone on smoothly,” she further added.
Maizurah, who is scheduled to compete on August 15, is honoured to be chosen as a national athlete for the Rio showpiece adding she hope to do her very best.
Sprinter Mohd Fakhri bin Haji Ismail has the opportunity to make a hat-trick of achievements where he advances to the next round of a major event following his successes in the SEA Games in Singapore and the World Championships in Beijing last year.
Mohd Fakhri is aiming to qualify to the next round and also set a new personal best hinting that his heart is set on going for the 10.4-second mark.