Six weeks had passed, and Chan Ho Yuen had not sat on his wheelchair or moved around the badminton court due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down sports facilities in Hong Kong.
A left-leg amputee, Chan uses a prosthesis daily and a wheelchair only when he plays his sport. So, when restrictions lightened up in mid-April in Hong Kong, the world No. 2 returned to training.
“When I looked in the mirror, I thought to myself that I’m more round compared to six weeks ago,” Chan said. “Now the first priority is to get back my condition for badminton. The second is to get back in shape.”
“When I got on the chair the first day, it felt very strange. My movements did not feel right,” Chan recalled. “Before she (my wheelchair) was my friend. Then she was like a stranger for me. But now she’s family again.”
The 35-year-old is training full strength at the Hong Kong Nation Sports Institute, a state-of-the-art sports campus for high performance athletes. He cannot leave the campus and must observe strict social-distance regulations. But his situation is a luxury these days.
Having experienced with a similar outbreak – SARS in 2003 – Hong Kong was prepared for COVID-19, allowing Chan to return to training ahead of most.
“We have a culture that if you feel you are dangerous, you are sick or have a cough, you wear a mask,” he explained. “My Para badminton friends in Belgium, France and China are all in lockdown, they cannot even step out of their house, or go to a super market once a week for an hour. Although I need to stay on the campus, I can train. Time passes bye very fast.”
Watchful eye on the ‘god’ of Para badminton
Chan broke into the headlines when he ended South Korea’s Kim Jungjun’s seven-year winning streak at an international tournament in 2018. Since then, he and Kim have battled for the top in the men’s WH2 category.
Had the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics not been postponed, Chan was confident he would have reached the gold medal match against Kim, who is referenced as the “god of Para badminton.”
“Before his accident, he was a soldier, so he is quite confident with his fitness,” said Chan, who lost to Kim in the final of the 2019 World Championships.
But Kim is not Chan’s biggest concern anymore.
Instead, the postponement gives younger athletes an advantage with an extra year to improve.
“Psychologically I’m not really worried about my skill because you can train in three to four days,” he said. “But I am really, really concerned about my physical condition because I’m not young. … and that concern will also harm my mental condition because you worry a lot.”
To counteract, he created a programme for the rest of this year, assuming there are no competitions.
“I’ll use the time to investigate or train some new skill and change my style to surprise my rivals,” Chan revealed. “I think every good player will look at video of their opponent to observe what they are going to do.”
Unprecedented times lead to unprecedented opportunities
When the pandemic took hold in mid-March, Chan found himself with more time to pursue activities that he would otherwise miss out on.
“First of all, I spent more time with my family,” he said. “I have a dog with my wife. But my dog thinks my wife is the master. … My dog always thinks I’m one part of the family but not a master. So, I would like to change that, and I learned how to feed and play with her.”
One hobby, Chan confessed, is probably not too proud about – binge watching Korean drama shows.
“I told my coach that I watch Korean drama not only for entertainment (but as strategy) because my biggest opponent (Kim Jungjun) is Korean, and if I learn the language, then I can understand what they are talking about during our matches.”