Goh Liu Ying’s life has always revolved around badminton. She started playing badminton at 10 and started training seriously at 13. It was tough – it has literally been all about badminton with little time to spend with family or friends.
“I left home to enroll at the Bukit Jalil Sports School when I was 13. Staying at the school was like being in jail, almost. We couldn’t go out – only one day every fortnight and for just six hours. Those days, even going to the pasar malam on my off days was such a treat!” shares Goh, adding that the longest break they’d get was a week. School holidays were spent in training too.
Although many of her peers dropped out of the training programme because of the gruelling and exhausting regime, Goh persevered.
“Actually, I don’t know why I stayed. I just wanted to give myself a shot at the game. Though my father encouraged me, he never put pressure on me. I think that helped. I didn’t feel as pressured as some of the others. But then again, I was always the last one in the group rankings!” she says candidly.
When she was 16, Goh found her niche in the mixed doubles category. This, she says, completely changed the way she viewed the game.
“I fell in love with badminton again. Mixed doubles is a very tactical game, more so than when you are playing singles and I loved it. Winning was so much more satisfying because I am playing with my partner and our game has to be calculative,” says Goh, her eyes lighting up as she speaks of the sport.
Life continues to be regimented for Goh. She lives in a hostel with her fellow shutlers in Mount Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. She trains five hours a day six days a week and spends her Sundays with her family, friends or her boyfriend, former national shuttler Ong Jian Guo. Even at 27, Goh still has a 10.30pm curfew.
“It is tough but to be an athlete, we need discipline. We need the pressure to perform to motivate us to improve our game. We just need to know how not to let the pressure get to us. That’s the life of an athlete,” she says matter-of-factly.
There have been times when she thought of quitting and doing something different with her life.
“I wouldn’t say quitting but giving up. Not because of the schedule but my injuries. When I went for my knee operation two years ago, it was a really difficult point in my life. These sorts of injuries are with you for life and I do not know how long I will be able to go on even after the surgery. Many times I wonder if it is worth it,” she shares.
Recovery was slow – for six months, Goh wasn’t able to play at all. Progress seemed to be too slow and she was miserable.
“Also, because I wasn’t training or playing, my salary was cut. I was depressed, to be honest. But then I reminded myself of my goal to reach the Olympics again. I pushed those negative thoughts out of my head and decided to think of other things apart from my injury,” she relates.
It led her to the Amber Chia modelling agency where she learnt the basics of modelling.
“No… that’s not my back-up plan for when I retire. I was interested in learning how to model and I needed to get my mind off my injuries and so I did it for fun,” says Goh without hesitation.
Goh is now set on breaking into the top five of the world ranking. She is estatic that the mixed doubles category is finally getting its moment in the sun and she intends to build on this momentum and train harder.
“It’s a good start for mixed doubles… and it is also a good boost for women in badminton. This is the first time a woman has won a medal for the sport in the country and it will inspire more girls,” says Liu Ying confidently.
Any plans for marriage, she says, will have to take a back seat.
“Right now, I’m going to fight for badminton first. My boyfriend? Yes, of course he is ok with that,” she says firmly.