Former doubles great juggles love for family with passion for badminton

Earning a living in a foreign land can be tough, but juggling work and commitments to a family in an entirely different country is another matter altogether.

For former badminton doubles great Choong Tan Fook, however, this is simply part of life.

The 42-year-old southpaw, whose formidable partnership with Lee Wan Wah saw the duo winning a plethora of titles including the Asian Championships and Commonwealth Games, now coaches the Hong Kong national doubles department.

But the cost of living in the densely populated former British colony is so high that Choong must make a weekly commute to visit his wife and two children in Guangzhou, China.

“The living standard in Hong Kong is extremely high, and houses are small and expensive. It’s not easy to survive, especially when you have a family,” Choong said.

“But I love my badminton, and I love my family. So this is a sacrifice I am happy to make.”

Choong is one of only a few former national shuttlers who have never coached in Malaysia. He began his coaching career in Hong Kong in 2010.

There, he oversees the doubles department as an assistant coach to Tim He.

He is happy with the progress he is making in a country where badminton is gaining in popularity.

“I am happy to see the players improving,” he said. “My students trust me and we have a good relationship. The training facilities here are good too, and badminton is a popular sport along with cycling and table tennis.”

Choong’s most prominent students are mixed doubles duo Tang Chun Man and Tse Ying Yuet, who clinched bronze at last year’s World Championships.

Grooming and turning his charges into world champions is still very much a work in progress for Ipoh-born Choong, who was a World Championships bronze medalist himself in 2001 and 2007.

This is why he has no plans to make the jump to head coach or ply his trade in another country just yet.

“I haven’t thought of myself as being in such a position (head coach), honestly. I just want to be in a good set-up where everyone can work as a team, because no one is capable of achieving everything on his or her own.”

He also hopes the Malaysian national team can strengthen their camaraderie and improve their fortunes on court.

“Every shuttler, for me, has to have a role model, someone they can look up to. The Hong Kong team has improved because I always share my experiences with them and guide them as much as possible.”

Such experiences include his own dips in fortune, such as the crushing Thomas Cup final defeats to Indonesia in 1998 and 2002. Even after many years, these are still his most vivid memories.

“We really wanted to bring the cup home after such a long time, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

“I can tell you, I gave it my best. What to do? But I owe the team a huge thanks because everyone was motivating each other all the time.”

What he couldn’t deliver as a player, Choong is now gunning to re-live through the small but talented and committed Hong Kong national team.

It may take some time, but he has no intention of being anywhere else right now.