Ong Poh Lim



Ong Poh Lim (b. 1923, Kuching, Sarawak–d. 17 April 2003, Singapore) was one of the greatest badminton players of the late 1940s and ’50s.1 A versatile player with an aggressive game, Ong won numerous singles and doubles titles, including the Singapore, Malayan, All-England and Thomas Cup championships. He pioneered the “crocodile serve”, which has become a standard feature of the modern game.2 Ong was a close rival to singles champion Wong Peng Soon.3

Career highlights
Ong excelled in badminton during his school days and held the Sarawak singles and doubles titles for a number of years. He moved to Singapore after World War II, where he played for the Marigold Badminton Party.4

Over the course of his career, Ong won numerous national and international titles. He held the Singapore Open singles title four times (1952–1955), after clinching it in 1953 in a match against Omar Ibrahim that lasted only 15 minutes. He held the doubles title seven times from 1950 to 1956, and made history by sweeping the singles, doubles and mixed-doubles titles over three consecutive years, from 1952 to 1954.5

Ong’s greatest achievements occurred when he was a member of Malaya’s victorious Thomas Cup teams in 1949, 1952 and 1955.6 He was the only Malayan player to win all his matches over the three championships, playing singles in 1949 and both singles and doubles in the subsequent two tournaments. In 1952, he won his doubles match with partner Ismail Marjan, and his singles defeat of American Bob Williams was instrumental in securing Malaya’s championship victory. In 1955, Ong played doubles with Ooi Teik Hock, again scoring the championship point for Malaya when he defeated Ole Jensen in the singles.7 Although he was also part of the 1958 Thomas Cup team, Ong was not selected to play in the finals, in which Malaya lost to Indonesia.8

Ong’s doubles partnership with Marjan, described by Wong as “the best doubles combination”, was an unrivalled one. In 1951, Ong and Marjan swept all major tournament titles during an eight-month tour of Europe, including the Danish, French and British doubles titles. A demonstration of their excellent working relationship took place in the 1954 French Open singles semi-final, when Marjan gave Ong a walkover so that the latter would be better rested for his final match against Wong. Ong went on to defeat Wong, and also took the doubles title with Marjan. Ong also had a productive doubles partnership with Ooi Teik Hock, with whom he won the All-England (1954), United States (1954) and Scottish (1956) titles.9

After Ong retired from top-level badminton in 1958, he kept mostly to the veterans’ circuit and exhibition games. However, he played such an impressive doubles game with George Yap in the 1960 Malayan Open that he was selected to be part of the Thomas Cup team held the following year.10

During his career, Ong’s great rival was another prominent player of that era, Wong Peng Soon. Wong was supreme in the singles game, but some considered Ong the more versatile player because of his achievements in both singles and doubles games. In 1952, H. A. E. Scheele, honorary secretary of the International Badminton Federation, compiled an unofficial list of top singles players worldwide that ranked Ong fifth, although this was disputed as most badminton critics and officials rated him second only to Wong, who topped the list.11

Ong pioneered the formidable “crocodile serve”, a backhand-flick serve that he performed with an unconscious wiggle of the posterior. The name of the serve was coined by a British journalist in reference to Ong’s birth place, Sarawak, which was known for its crocodile-infested rivers. The serve is now widely used in the modern game. Ong’s playing style was also considered to have set the pace for the modern game. In contrast to Wong’s more unhurried style and crafted strokes, Ong’s attacking game was characterised by speed and power, with accurate use of the half smash and fast flick.12

After competitive badminton
After retiring from playing, Ong took on coaching stints all over the world, including in Malaysia, Iran and the Philippines.13 Ong is credited with having trained Lee Kin Tat, who reached the semi-finals of the All-England championship in 1964 and 1966, as well as two-time All-England champion Tan Yee Khan (1965 and 1966).14


In the 1970s, Ong worked at Fraser & Neave, where he often showed visitors the company’s badminton hall. In addition to the sport, Ong was also interested in antiques. He was a keen philatelist and had amassed an extensive collection of rare and unusual stamps, in particular from Sarawak.15

Ong was inducted into the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) Sports Museum Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1997, he received a Meritorious Service Award from the International Badminton Federation for his significant contributions to the sport. He was inducted into the World Badminton Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s Hall of Fame in 2004.16

Later years
Humble and charming, Ong was popular with fans from around the world but was always focused on badminton, and remained a bachelor.17 He lived alone at Sennett Close, his next-of-kin having emigrated in the late 1990s. As Ong grew frail in his later years, SSC officials provided him with groceries, checked on his health and took him to SSC functions. Former president of Singapore, Wee Kim Wee, an old friend and keen badminton player, occasionally visited him.18

On 16 April 2003, SSC officials visited Ong at his home and discovered that he had suffered a bad fall and been unattended for several days. He was taken to Changi General Hospital where he passed away on 17 April, the day he was to attend the SSC Hall of Fame dinner.19 He was then 80 years old. His funeral was attended by 23 people, including officials from the SSC and the Singapore Badminton Association.20 Ong was buried at Choa Chu Kang Christian Cemetery.21



Author

Joanna HS Tan



References
1. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 841. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
2. Chen, C. (2002). Upholding the legacy: Singapore badminton. Singapore: Asiapac, p. 67. (Call no.: RSING 796.345095957TAN)
3. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 841. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
4. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 841. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
5. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 843. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
6. Ong, K. K. (1984). We were great: Thomas cup badminton. Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Federal Publications, p. 127. (Call no.: RSING 796.345 ONG)
7. Ong, K. K. (1984). We were great: Thomas cup badminton. Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Federal Publications, p. 65. (Call no.: RSING 796.345 ONG)
8. Poh Lim and Chong Teik are out. (1958, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ong, K. K. (1984). We were great: Thomas cup badminton. Petaling Jaya, Selangor: Federal Publications, p. 87. (Call no.: RSING 796.345 ONG)
9. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 842–843. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
10. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 843. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU); Chan, K. H. (1960, August 2). Poh Lim is back on cup list. The Straits Times, p. 15; Ng, C. (1961, June 21). Worst ever but there is hope still. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Poh Lim is under-rated says Mr Lim. (1952, November 26). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
12. Tay, C. K. (2003, April 18). Badminton legend dies. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Malaysia seeks the help of Poh Lim, Peng Soon. (1976, May 15). The Straits Times, p. 21; Pereira, B. (1978, February 9). Poh Lim gets coaching offer. The Straits Times, p. 21; Poh Lim is off to PI. (1962, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Low, J. (2003, April 25). Goodbye to a legend of the court. The Straits Times, p. 10; Lee, B. (1982, March 30). Sidek brothers end 11-year drought. The Straits Times, p. 34. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. World-class sportsmen win top spot in Hall of Fame. (1986, August 3). The Straits Times, p. 11; Ong Poh Lim’s loves. (1981, November 16). The Straits Times, p. 2; Hoo, Y. G. (1981, November 16). For the love.... The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Suryadinata, L. (Ed.). (2012). Southeast Asian personalities of Chinese descent: a biographical dictionary (Vol. 1). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 843. (Call no.: RSING 959.004951 SOU)
17. IBF award for ex-maestro Ong. (1997, October 7). The Straits Times, p. 44. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Tay, C. K. (2003, April 18). Badminton legend dies. The Straits Times, p. 6; Yap, K. H. (2003, April 20). When a legacy is more than just a fading memory. The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Tay, C. K. (2003, April 18). Badminton legend dies. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Low, J. (2003, April 25). Goodbye to a legend of the court. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Yap, K. H. (2003, April 20). When a legacy is more than just a fading memory. The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2010 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.

Subject
Athletes--Singapore--Biography
Personalities
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Ong, Poh Lim, 1923-2003
Personalities>>Biographies
Badminton players--Singapore--Biography
Sports, recreation and travel>>Indoor games
Sports, recreation and travel>>Ball games>>Racket games>>Badminton