Ng Thian Poo and Oei See Moi hailed from Fuzhou, in China’s Fujian Province. After they both moved to Indonesia, Oei gave birth to Ng Swie King – later called Liem Swie King – in Kudus, Indonesia, on February 28th, 1956. King had one brother who died early in an accident and seven sisters, two of which, Megah Inawati and Megah Idawati, were members of the 1965-1966 Uber Cup team for Indonesia.
After disputing a junior championship in his city, Budi Hartono, owner of cigarette company Djarum, invited the promising young boy to join the local Djarum Badminton Club in his hometown. Success was soon to follow as King’s first major achievement was his win at the 1972 Central Java badminton championships. In 1973, he won the National Junior singles title, as well as the Indonesian Games (PON). The same year, he would collect two other titles at the Garuda Cup Badminton World Championships held in Tegal: King won in singles and in doubles with Kartono, with whom he would later clinch two Indonesia Open titles.
In 1974, King – who had just taken the Indonesian name of Guntur for naturalization – completed his crescendo in Indonesian badminton with his first senior national title, for which he received a Honda CB-100 motorbike from the governor of Central Java, Moenadi. King won the National Senior Championships for a second time in 1975.
Liem Swie King’s ascension of world badminton would be as quick and high as his trademark jump smashes. The same year he won his first senior championships, he participated in his first international tournament outside of Indonesia at the Asian Games in Tehran and grabbed a bronze medal in singles after losing to Hou Jiachang at the semi-final stage.
King once again reached the semi-final stage at the 1975 All England but only in 1976 did he reach the final round of the tournament against the formidable Rudy Hartono, who was in search of his eighth title in singles competition. The latter prevailed with a double score of 15-7 against the young King. Many questioned the players’ true involvement in the match, fearing Hartono got a free ride in order to break Erland Kops’ record of seven titles. However, King proved his 1976 final was no fluke when he once again reached the final in 1977. The Indonesian fell to Flemming Delfs who would later that same year become the first world men’s singles champion in history.
A change of fortune would await King in 1978. Reaching for a third consecutive time the final of the famous British tournament, King would this time trounce his opponent of 1976, Hartono, 15-10, 15-3 in front of 7000 bewildered spectators at London’s Wembley Arena. At the Bangkok Asian Games, King banged the shuttlecock to win a gold medal in singles and a golden title for Indonesia in team competition.
1979 would again see King triumph at the All England after he defeated the reigning world champion, Flemming Delfs, in two easy sets. By then, Liem Swie King was a huge star in the Indonesian republic. As a sure sign of his popularity, King even starred in the movie Sakura dalam Pelukan with Eva Arnaz.
However, success breeds high expectations and can be a tough burden to bear. At the 1980 All England, King was not able to produce a Hat Trick and lost to an in-form Prakash Padukone of India in the final. After the Indonesian’s crushing defeat to the Indian Great, angered fans brought down a statue of King in Jakarta. Later in 1980, at the World Championships held in Jakarta, King sustained another setback when he was defeated in the final to a reborn Rudy Hartono.
King finally completed his All England Hat Trick in 1981 but his finest moment was yet to come at the 1983 World Championships. Or was it? After getting rid of two formidable Chinese foes at the quarterfinal and semi-final stages, King reached the final round against a younger and lower-ranked compatriot, Icuk Sugiarto. In front of 4000 excited spectators in Copenhagen’s Brøndby Hallen, King lost the first game 8-15 but came back to win the second 15-12. A perfect crescendo was obtained when both players reached the 13-13 mark. A seesaw affair was then engaged between both Indonesians and King wasn’t able to convert three match points. Sugiarto took advantage of his opponent’s mistakes and won the final set and championship with a final score of 17-16.
Despite the heartbreaking loss for King, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, who witnessed the match, is said to have been convinced to accept badminton as an Olympic sport in 1985.
A hardened patriot, Liem Swie King took a great part in team competition, contributing to three conquests of the Thomas Cup for his country (1976, 1979, and 1984). The 1984 Thomas Cup was to be a turning point in King’s career. In the final against China, King lost the first match of the 5-game tie in singles but clinched the deciding fifth match in doubles with Hariamanto Kartono to give Indonesia a 3-2 win.
In 1984, after losing to Morten Frost in the final of the All England, King decided to switch to men’s doubles. His last years as a doubles player would not be as illustrious as his previous but his partnerships with Kartono, Eddy Hartono and Bobby Ertanto would earn him 11 titles in individual competition before his retirement in 1988.
King received the IBF’s Distinguished Service Award in 1986 and was inducted in its Hall of Fame in 2002. King is also a member of the PB Djarum Hall of Fame.
In his personal life, King met his wife Lucia Alamsah in 1976 and they had three children, Alexander, Stephanie and Michelle. King’s life and achievements were the inspiration for the 2009 Indonesian movie King in which he made a cameo appearance. That same year, Robert Adhi Kusumaputra published a biography on the Indonesia legend, who now owns and manages a hotel in South Jakarta.
1986 – IBF Distinguished Service Award
2002 – IBF Hall of Fame
Perkumpulan Bulu Tangkis Djarum (PB Djarum) Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Apa & Siapa (Sabaruddin Sa.)
Badminton Handbook (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
Jakarta Post (July 11th, 2009)
King (Movie Script)
Panggil Aku King (Robert Adhi Kusumaputra)
Southeast Asian Personalities of Chinese Descent (Leo Suryadinata)
The Greatest Badminton Matches (DVD)
Prakash Padukone: One of the fastest players of our times. His forte was speed and aggression. Temperamentally King was perhaps not as strong as Rudy but still had some great victories to his credit
-- By Yves Lacroix