It wasn’t any sudden new insight, any lately-acquired technical nuance, that helped Chou Tien Chen author the biggest win of his career last month, at the Indonesia Open. What inspired him to the title was a promise he had made to a fan who was suffering from blood cancer.
The Indonesia Open win, followed a few days later by another remarkable title triumph in Thailand, marks Chou among the favourites for the gold at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 this week in Basel. Both victories were for him a way to demonstrate the strength of will in overcoming limitations, particularly to the fan whom he hoped to inspire in her battle against cancer.
“I just tried to show my (fighting) attitude, because you can only fight, you cannot control the outcome,” said Chou. “I showed how I can do this, how I can control myself. I wanted to tell her that she should show the same attitude against cancer.”
Chou’s physio Victoria Kao recounted how it had come about.
“She was a fan who had brought him a gift from her mother during the Asian Games. Before his (semifinal) match at the Indonesia Open, she sent a message about her cancer. She told me she couldn’t come to court because she had to go to hospital for chemotherapy. I informed Chou and he took a video for her, to tell her – ‘I will do my best, and you will do your best, promise?’ So she had chemo in hospital and saw the game. I think it’s wonderful because… maybe she can forget the pain. And this promise becomes his strong motivation. Chou told her: ‘I cannot control the result, but I can control my attitude, so you too, you should have the attitude to fight your cancer.’ So maybe that motivation helped him in the final.”
To keep his end of the deal, he had to exceed his own limits, for he had been dragged into marathon battles in his three matches before the final, each of them taking an average 76 minutes.
The Indonesia win, he says, has made a difference to her, as she has apparently been showing signs of progress.
Chou is a rare player, one who places his badminton achievements in a larger context; winning a title is not everything to him. Kao quotes Chou as saying it is more important to be a “winner in life” and not just a winner in badminton.
After he’d won the Korea Open last September 2018, he dedicated his victory to the earthquake and tsunami victims of Palu in Indonesia.
“I was praying for them before the match,” said Chou, who incidentally beat an Indonesian, Tommy Sugiarto, in the final. “I did my best today, I hope my performance will provide some cheer for them and help them recover from the tragedy. People have got hurt in the earthquake. I feel so sad about it. I thought I would play for them and play well so maybe that could cheer them up. I always feel about such things and I worry about the people of Palu.”
While he is home in Taipei, Chou takes time out on Sundays to distribute food to the homeless. Kao reflects on how the earthquake in Palu affected Chou:
“The earthquake was terrible, when we saw the news we cried,” she says. “Because so many people don’t have homes. Suddenly their families disappeared, that’s very painful. He thinks about all that. If you think only about matches, it’s very boring. He says, so what if you win a gold medal? It’s a short-term goal, but after that you must be a winner in your life. That’s a true medal.”