Badminton: Boon Bee, the little giant of badminton is no more

PETALING JAYA: He was the little man with the huge leap and deadly smash, a badminton hero who has won almost everything – the Thomas Cup (twice), the All-England (twice), the Asian Games gold medal (three times).

Partnering first (Datuk) Tan Yee Khan and then (Datuk) Punch Gunalan, he also won the Asian championships and even took part in the Olympics when badminton was a demonstration sport.

Datuk Ng Boon Bee was one of the shortest shuttlers in the national squad. But he was a giant of an athlete.

He not only represented the country in badminton but was also part of the national football team in the Merdeka Tournament along with the likes of Ghani Minhat, Robert Choe and V. Govindarajoo in the late 1950s.

Boon Bee passed away after a heart problem in Ipoh yesterday. He was 84.

His long-time doubles partner and childhood friend Yee Khan said Boon Bee was like a brother to him.

“I’ve known him since our schooldays at St Michael’s Institution and we traveled around the world and won so many titles. Such wonderful memories. I am going to miss him a lot,” said Yee Khan.

“His house was just 200m from mine and we would always spend time together. Training and playing in tournaments. That was our life.

“He was a great player and great man. Since I do the talking, many think that I am older but he was three years older than me. The nation has lost a great sportsman. People like him should get more recognition for his endless service to sports as a national athlete.”

Boon Bee’s Thomas Cup teammate Datuk Yew Cheng Hoe said the former great’s passing came as a shock as he had been in good spirits during a reunion a couple of weeks ago.

His wife Tong Yee Cheng said he suffered an attack while in the car and was rushed to the Ipoh hospital. He passed away this evening,” said Cheng Hoe.

“He was one of the best badminton players the country has ever seen. The entire 1967 Thomas Cup team is still around and it is sad to lose him. We have lost one of our greatest sportsmen.

“His wife is a former national player also and he named his son Thomas after our success. Despite his services, he hardly got any recognition and that’s always the sad part. But he never made an issue of it.”

Boon Bee and Yee Khan were the integral members of the 1967 Thomas Cup team. The others in the team were Cheng Hoe, Teh Kew San, Tan Aik Huang and Billy Ng.

Boon Bee and Yee Khan were a formidable doubles pair in the 1960s and were All-England champions in 1965 and 1966.

Boon Bee later partnered the late Gunalan to win the 1971 All-England title. He also won the 1970 Commonwealth Games gold with Gunalan in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He has also won four Asian Games golds in the men’s and mixed doubles and eight gold medals in the SEAP and SEA Games.

As a footballer, he was part of the Malaya team that won the Merdeka tournament three times (1958-1960) before switching to badminton full-time.

Former international Datuk James Selvaraj paid tribute to Boon Bee as one of the persons who inspired him to become a better player.

“When I was still a teenager, I used to watch them train and I was inspired and wanted to be like them. Boon Bee was a great attacking player and it was a joy to watch him,” said Selvaraj.

“He could play so many sports. His service to Malaysian sport is priceless.”

Boon Bee was also active in cricket, rugby and athletics at the state level. But he was always the darling of badminton.

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