Tue, 08 Mar 2005

Former champ Liem happy out of the spotlight

Musthofid, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The years of competing in arenas around the world yielded him three All England titles and glory from Indonesia's Thomas Cup campaigns, but Liem Swie King seems to enjoy the respite of retirement.

Instead of soldiering on well past his prime, he quit when he felt the effects of age creeping up on him.

"It was a matter of my age when I called it a day in 1988. I was growing old, already 32. I was resolved to stop playing when I was over 30," Liem, now 49, said at his office in South Jakarta.

"I have totally put down my badminton racket for the last eight years. I play tennis for exercise."

Although other former badminton players have parlayed their sporting success into business positions or coaching jobs, Liem -- the owner of a massage parlor and hotel -- is notable for keeping a low profile.

He has also stayed well clear of the notorious hive of politicking and jostling for position in bureaucratic sports organizations.

Still, he does not rule out a return to the game as a trainer.

"I have a willingness to help PBSI (the Badminton Association of Indonesia). But I'm not sure if I can handle the time commitment. As a trainer, I would have to be totally committed to the profession."

Reminders of his past are to be found on a wall of his office that is decorated with pictures from his playing days. In one, he is coiled and poised to strike in his trademark lethal jumping smash.

In another photo, Liem and fellow members of the 1982 Thomas Cup team stand on the podium to receive their silver medals from Queen Elizabeth II after being defeated by China in London.

The Thomas Cup, the world's most prestigious badminton men's team championships, provided some of the most bittersweet memories of his playing days.

After the stunning London loss, in which Indonesia was beaten 5-4 after winning the Thomas Cup on four successive occasions, the team rebounded to win 3-2 over China in Kuala Lumpur in 1984.

Without detracting from the contribution of his teammates, Liem fondly remembers his own part in the win.

He lost in the singles to nemesis Luan Jin but, with partner Kartono, made amends by winning the decisive final match of the tie.

"I was proud to be able to wrap up the match in a winning way...especially as it was a team competition. We were the victors after we had been trailing throughout. Playing for a team gave us a huge burden. That's why winning as a team gave me a different taste of glory."

He lists the components of his success as talent, commitment, discipline, a determined mind set and support from his family.

Liem started playing the sport with his parents at the sports hall in his hometown of Kudus, Central Java. His sisters, Inawati and Idawati, were members of Indonesia's Uber Cup team, the women's version of the Thomas Cup.

He played his first national tournament at age 17 in the 1973 National Games, advancing to the final before losing to Iie Sumirat.

The following year, he was crowned the national champion.

He gained an international reputation through his exploits at the All England, where he was beaten by compatriot Rudy Hartono in 1976 and Dane Fleming Delfs the following year.

He made it third time lucky by winning in 1978.

Ironically, his most painful defeat came in a friendly tie between Indonesia and China in 1980 in Singapore. His trademark smash suddenly went missing in action.

"Tied after the first two games with Han Jian, it was a hard battle to the end. And I had the chance to finish off the match when I was leading 17-14 and my opponent hit a lame return, only for me to smack the shuttlecock into the net. That allowed Han Jian to come back and win the match 17-18."

The defeat unnerved him, carrying over to the All England the same year, where he was upset by Prakash Padukone. It was his only defeat to the Indian in five meetings.

He recouped to take his third All England crown the next year. Liem was also twice runner-up in the world championships and a gold medalist at the 1978 Asian Games.

His achievements were recognized with his induction into the badminton Hall of Fame in 2002, only the fourth Indonesian shuttler honored, along with onetime rival Rudy Hartono, doubles specialist Christian Hadinata and Susy Susanti.

Liem's children Alexander, 22, Stefanie, 19, and Michelle, 9, have chosen to focus on their studies instead of following in their father's footsteps.

There is always the chance that he may one day return to teach others the art of his leaping smash, but it seems it will not be easy to coax him out of his comfortable retirement.