At some point, every athlete dreams of making it to the Olympics, but local badminton prodigy Jason Gunawan has had his heart set on competing at the sporting event since he was four years old.
Jason, who celebrated his second consecutive win in the boys’ singles event at the All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Tournament last Monday, says he has been dreaming of Olympic glory ever since he watched Chinese player Lin Dan take gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I was so thrilled to see Lin’s victory; I just wanted to stand on the top of the Olympic podium like him,” Jason, now 15, recalls.
A love of badminton runs in Jason’s family. His father, a Chinese Indonesian, used to play for the Jakarta province team. As a child, Jason would head to the local sports centre with his father every Sunday to practise, eventually earning a spot on the Hong Kong junior team.
He now trains 30 hours a week at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, but still finds time to practise with his dad, his biggest supporter. His dad also helps him work on his tactics; during matches, he watches Jason’s opponents to analyse their strengths and weaknesses.
“Having my dad with me at competitions makes me feel calmer when I play, because I know he’ll always have my back,” Jason says.
The support of his family has been a source of comfort and motivation over the past 11 years, especially during a rough patch three years ago. As other players his age began to catch up to him, an increasingly frustrated Jason began to wonder if he had lost his edge.
“I couldn’t have pushed through if it wasn’t for my family. They told me there were bound to be ups and downs in my career, so I should persist rather than give up,” he recalls.
Jason’s tenacity was put to test again last August, when he represented Hong Kong at the 2nd National Youth Games in Shanxi. It was a tough match, and the teen was trailing by seven points. Still, Jason played on, and managed to claw his way up the scoreboard to tie the game at 20-20. Although he eventually lost 23-25, the match served as a reminder of the power of perseverance.
Having won the Jing Ying title for Diocesan Boys’ School two years running, the Form Four student is virtually unbeatable among secondary school players. He admits there is pressure for him to win again next year, but he’s learning to accept praise without worrying about letting people down.
“There’s definitely a feeling that I cannot lose next year, but I’m trying very hard not to let people’s high expectations affect my mindset,” he says.
As well as dominating the interschool badminton scene, Jason is well on his way to becoming one of the best men’s singles player in the city. His goal is to become the third Hongkonger to win the Hong Kong Open, following in the footsteps of the 2016 champion Angus Ng Ka-long and 2019 champion Lee Cheuk-yiu.
“I’m still far away from this goal, but I really want to win a champion’s title on my home ground,” says Jason.
To help him hold his own against players like Ng and Lee, Jason started training with the elite badminton team two years ago. The intense new regimen took some getting used to, but Jason says the progress has been worth it.
He will have a chance to show the fruits of his hard work at two international junior competitions next month. But the key tournaments of the year will be the Asian Junior Championships in July and the BWF World Championships in October, from which Jason hopes to bring home some shiny souvenirs.
“It is a tough goal to reach, since most of my opponents are at least two years older than me. But as a younger player, I feel less pressure to win, so we’ll see,” he says.