Two Olympic Champs Aiding Weng’s Growth

How does an up-and-coming talent deal with being likened to one of the all-time greats?

Weng Hong Yang, the 24-year-old Chinese southpaw who after his Korea Open title last year was instantly compared with two-time Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan, is least perturbed.

That, partly, is because of how Lin treats him.

“We text each other,” admits Weng, whose lefthandedness and Fujian origins earned him the ‘Little Lin Dan’ nickname. “We speak about life in general, like how two friends would. We don’t necessarily talk about badminton or my matches.

“But if I do need advice, I text him before some of my matches. One thing he always tells me is to stay focused on court. Getting advice off a legend is enough motivation to do well.

“He’s a big inspiration. Growing up, I learned a great deal watching his matches. He’s played an important role in my growth.

“However, I’m not bothered by the comparison. I want to be my own player.”

Despite the hype, Weng’s performances declined following his success in Suncheon. He suffered five opening round exits on the HSBC BWF World Tour this season before making his first final in a year at last month’s Malaysia Masters.

Although he lost the title match to Prannoy H. S., Weng picked up wins from losing positions against Kento Momota and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in the initial stages. At the subsequent three events, he did not go past the Round of 16.

“I’m still a work in progress so it’s normal to have ups and downs,” he admits. “There’s a lot to get better at. For example, I want to be more composed during crucial points.

“My mental strength and fighting spirit have improved a lot. I don’t let my opponents win easily. If they want to beat me, they must work hard for it.”

Weng takes great confidence from wins against experienced pros like Momota.

In addition to Lin, Weng is also now able to call upon the experience and expertise of Rio 2016 gold medallist Chen Long. The recently retired star helps China’s men’s singles shuttlers in training.

“He’s like a brother. He shares his experience and tips during practice. He’s good at blending the new with the old.”

With guidance from two badminton legends, Weng feels ready to chase down a couple of big goals.

“I want to play at the (Hangzhou) Asian Games (in September) because it’s in China but I need to prove I’m worth a place,” he said. “To be selected, other than tournament results, our attitude in training will be scrutinised too.

“My main target this year, however, is to collect as many Olympic qualifying points as possible. Paris 2024 is the dream.”

To realise that dream, Weng must wrestle two compatriots – Shi Yu Qi and Li Shi Feng – for a ticket to France next year. How determined is he to win the race?

“We are a team. Everyone has a chance and we all try to do our best. But it’s the Olympics, every shuttler wishes to take part. I’m no different.”

Shi and Weng after their All England quarterfinal.

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