Wong Peng Soon



Singapore Infopedia

Background

Wong Peng Soon (b. 17 February, 1917, Johor Baru, Malaya–d. 22 May 1996, Singapore) is considered one of the greatest badminton players of all time.1 He was a four-time winner of the All-England singles title and a member of the Malayan teams that dominated the Thomas Cup from the late 1940s to the late 1950s.2

Background
Wong was born in Johor Bahru, Malaya, into a family of shuttlers. Five of his brothers were also proficient badminton players.3 Throughout his career, Wong was a tenacious competitor known for his well-crafted strokes and graceful footwork.4 A disciplined and dedicated athlete, he adhered to a rigorous training routine that included skipping, and cycled from Johore to Singapore to attend training sessions. He never stayed out late in the evenings, declining invitations to movies screened after 6.15 pm.5

In his teens, Wong joined the Mayflower Badminton Party in Singapore, where his meteoric rise began.6 

He married Doreen Poi Chim Neo on 3 August 1947.7

Career highlights
Nicknamed “The Great Wong”, Wong excelled at singles badminton.8 He rose rapidly to the top of men’s badminton in Malaya, where he was crowned the Malayan Open singles champion eight times (1940–41, 1947, 1949, 1950–53).9 He also held the Singapore Open title seven times (1938–40, 1947–49 and 1951).10 In 1950, Wong was the first Asian to win the All-England Championships, and he won the title again in 1951, 1952 and 1955. Wong’s most remarkable accomplishments, however, are considered to be the three Thomas Cup titles that Malaya held between 1949 and 1955.11

In 1949, the badminton associations of Singapore and Malaya sent a combined team to the inaugural Thomas Cup. Singapore was represented by Wong and Ong Poh Lim. On the 26-day steamship journey to the tournament in Preston, England, Wong and his teammates were forced to find ways to maintain their fitness levels by training on board the ship. The team’s progress to the final was marred by Wong’s semi-final loss to David Freeman, the only player ever to beat Wong in a Thomas Cup match. In addition, Wong sustained a shoulder injury during the match that prevented him from playing in the cup final. Led by captain-manager Lim Chuan Geok, the team eventually overwhelmed Denmark 8-1 to clinch the championship title.12

At the 1952 Thomas Cup championship, the Malayan team defeated America 7-2 to retain the cup. The team on this occasion included veterans Wong and Ong as well as Ismail Marjan. In 1955, Wong led the Malayan team to its third and last cup title, defeating Denmark 8-1 at the Singapore Badminton Hall. This achievement was considered remarkable because Wong was 37 years old at the time, an age by which most badminton players were considered past their prime.13

Wong’s great rival during his career was his contemporary Ong. While Wong was supreme in the singles game, Ong was considered a more versatile player because of his achievements in both the singles and doubles games. Wong was unable to defeat Ong in championship doubles matches, and on several occasions, also lost notable singles matches to the latter.14

Wong retired from competitive badminton after the 1955 Thomas Cup championship. He turned professional the same year and became a badminton coach for the Singapore Youth Centre.15 He coached the Malayan team in its bid to retain the Thomas Cup in 1958, but Malaya lost the title to Indonesia.16 Wong later took up coaching stints in Thailand, Canada and Japan, as well as at the Haarlem Badminton Club in Holland in 1966.17

Honours
In 1956, Wong was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to sports in Malaya, the first Singaporean athlete to receive the honour.18

The following year, the International Badminton Federation Handbook placed Wong on its list of “immortal players of the past”, putting him in the company of other badminton greats such as Sir George Thomas, after whom the Thomas Cup was named, and Dr David Freeman, who was the sole opponent to best Wong in the Thomas Cup single matches.19

In 1962, in the first-ever list of National Day honours, Wong was awarded the Sijil Kemuliaan (Certificate of Honour), the nation’s second-highest public award and the highest award ever bestowed on a sports personality.20

Wong was inducted into the Racquet Museum Badminton Club of Thailand's Hall of Fame in September 1967, alongside fellow Singaporean compatriot Ong Poh Lim and six Malaysians. Wong was also made an honorary member of the club.21


In 1986, the International Badminton Federation conferred on Wong the Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the sport. The award was presented at a luncheon held on 18 April 1986 at the Fatty Weng’s Restaurant at the clubhouse of the Singapore Badminton Association at Guillemard Road.22

Wong was inducted into the Singapore Sports Museum Hall of Fame in 1986 and the International Badminton Federation (now called the Badminton World Federation) Hall of Fame in 1999.23

In 1999, Wong emerged the winner ­– ahead of Olympic silver medallist weightlifter Tan Howe Liang – in The Sunday Times’ ranking of the top 50 athletes in Singapore, and was named Singapore’s greatest athlete. At a ceremony organised by the newspaper, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong presented the award to Wong’s widow.24

Death
In November 1981, Wong suffered a stroke and partial paralysis.25 Although he regained mobility and continued to travel to local and regional badminton tournaments, his health declined. Wong was bedridden in his final years, and passed away from pneumonia on 22 May 1996, at 78.26


Family
Wife: Doreen Poi Chim Neo

Children: Patricia, Audrey, Dennis27



Author
Joanna Tan



References

1. “Yu zong juxing qinggong yan bing zhu huangbingxuan shengri” 羽总举行庆功宴并祝黄秉璇生日 (The Badminton Association held a celebration banquet for Wong Peng Soon’s birthday), Lianhe Zaobao è”合早报, 16 February 1988,12; “Wushi niandai yu tan hong ren huangbingxuan huan feiyan shishi” 50年代羽坛红人黄秉璇患肺炎逝世 (Wong Peng Soon, a famous badminton player in the 1950s, died of pneumonia), Lianhe Zaobao è”合早报, 23 May 1996, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Leo Suryadinata, ed. Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent: A Biographical Dictionary Vol 1 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012), 1286. (Call no. RSING 959.004951 SOU); “Here’s the full list,” Straits Times, 19 December 1999, 52; J. Rajendran, “IBF Honour Peng Soon,” Straits Times, 2 April 1986, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 1286; “Death of Mrs. Wong Ah Yam,” Straits Times, 28 August 1935, 12 ;Ismail Kassim, "Wizard Wong," New Nation, 17 June 1975, 10–11. (From NewspaperSG)
4. "A Legend in His Time," New Straits Times, 23 May 1996, 44. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
5. “Goodbye, Peng Soon,” Straits Times, 23 May 1996, 32; “At 37 It's Time to Quit, Says Wong Peng Soon,” Straits Times, 15 July 1955, 14; Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 1287; “Wong put S'pore sport on world map,” Straits Times (Overseas ed), 25 May 1996, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Goodbye, Peng Soon.”
7. “Champion Married,” Straits Times, 3 August 1947, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Lee Siew Yee, “Cup Men Have Achieved Much,” Straits Times, 1 February 1949, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “At 37 It's Time to Quit, Says Wong Peng Soon.”
10. “At 37 It's Time to Quit, Says Wong Peng Soon.”
11. Tommy Koh, et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, 2006), 592 (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Jeffrey Low, “Cheers to You, Champ,” Straits Times, 17 February 1985, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Ong Kah Kuan, We Were Great: Thomas Cup Badminton (Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Federal Publications, 1984), 13–28. (Call no. RSING 796.345 ONG)
13. Ong, Thomas Cup Badminton, 47–72, 87; Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 843, 1286–87. (Call no. RSING 959.004951 SOU)
14. Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 841–42.
15. “Peng Soon’s Decision: Time To Quit,” Straits Times, 15 July 1955, 1; “At 37 It's Time to Quit, Says Wong Peng Soon”; “BAM to ‘Drop’ Coach Wong,” Straits Times, 3 September 1958, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “BAM to ‘Drop’ Coach Wong”; Ong, Thomas Cup Badminton, 87–93.
17. “New Job for Peng Soon in Holland,” Straits Times, 12 August 1966, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “3 Malayans Knighted,” Straits Times, 2 January 1956, 1; “Go the Kiwi Way,” New Paper, 19 December 1999, 64; Ismail Kassim, “Wizard Wong.” (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Peng Soon is among ‘Immortals of Past’,” Straits Times, 10 February 1957, 22; Ismail Kassim, “Wizard Wong.” (From NewspaperSG)
20. Low, “Cheers to You, Champ”; “National Day Honours,” Straits Times, 3 June 1962, 1; Low Lin Fhoong, “Spore's Sporting Greats,” Today, 9 August 2014, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Francis Boey, “Wong is Elected to Hall of Fame,” Straits Times, 16 September 1967, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
22. J. Rajendran, “IBF Honour Peng Soon,” Straits Times, 2 April 1986, 23 (From NewspaperSG); J. Rajendran, “Salute to Former Great Peng Soon,” Straits Times, 19 April 1986, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “World-class Sportsmen Win Top Spot in Hall of Fame,” Straits Times, 3 August 1986, 11; “The Old Maestro Is Still a Master of Wit,” Straits Times, 16 December 1990, 38 (From NewspaperSG); Cheong Suk-Wai, The Sound of Memories: Recordings from the Oral History Centre, Singapore (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore : World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 2019), 219; Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 1287.
24. “Go the Kiwi Way”; “The Top Ten,” New Paper, 19 December 1999, 64; S. Murali, “Peng Soon Named S'pore's Greatest Athlete," Straits Times, 19 December 1999, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Shirley Tan, “Ex-shuttle Star Wong Peng Soon Suffers Stroke,” New Nation, 19 November 1981, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Joe Dorai, “Wong Peng Soon, 78, Dies Of Pneumonia,” Straits Times, 23 May 1996, 3; Godfrey Robert, “Master Who Turned Pastime into a Heroic Passion,” Straits Times, 23 May 1996, 32; Jonathan Choo, “Joyless Jaunts to See Sport,” Straits Times, 9 August 1984, 45. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “Obituary: Wong Peng Soon,” Straits Times, 23 May 1996, 24 (From NewspaperSG); Suryadinata, Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent, 1288.



The information in this article is valid as of May 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 


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