Cover Top shuttler Soh Wooi Yik of Malaysia, together with partner Aaron Chia, won the gold at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (Photo: Getty Images)

These stellar athletes have brought home pride and glory in the biennial multi-sport event

The 31st Southeast Asian Games gathers over 5,000 participants from 11 countries in Hanoi, Vietnam. More than a showing of prowess, the biennial event records the stories of athletes pushing the limits of human performance, of men and women overcoming great odds to represent their countries and demonstrate the unifying power of sports. Here, some of the stellar athletes on Asia’s Most Influential list who have triumphed at the regional games and brought home pride and glory.

Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik, Badminton Doubles (Malaysia)

Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik won the gold medal at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, ending Malaysia's 16-year title drought in the men’s event. Malaysia's top badminton duo have also brought home the bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and finished as runners-up in the 2019 All England Open. Most recently, they took second place at the 2022 Badminton Asia Championships. Both started on the sport early: Chia was introduced to the sport by his father at age seven; while Soh, who comes from a family of badminton legends, started playing at four years old. 

Read Aaron Chia’s and Soh Wooi Yik’s full profiles.

Lee Zii Jia, Badminton (Malaysia)

Top shuttler Lee Zii Jia is helping lead the Malaysian badminton team to dominance, having won gold at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, the men’s singles title at the 2021 All England Badminton Championships and another gold at the recently concluded Badminton Asia Championships. In May, he moved up to sixth place in the Badminton World Federation rankings.

The athlete, who is the son of former national basketball players Lee Chee Hin and Leow Siet Peng, clinched the gold at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, and followed that up with a win the All-England Open Badminton Championships in 2021. He also presented Malaysia at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, where he made it to the Last-16.

Read Lee Zii Jia’s full profile here.

Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu, Badminton Doubles (Indonesia)

Badminton doubles partners Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu made the news when they earned an emotional win at the 2020 Olympics, where they defeated the world champions to take home Indonesia's first gold in Tokyo. The win made them the first women's doubles pair from their country to clinch gold at the Olympics, and made Indonesia the only other country besides China to have won in all five badminton events. The pair credit their age difference—Greysia Polii was then 34, while Apriyani Rahayu was 23—for their power on the court, with one bringing youth and energy, while the other brings experience.

The 2019 SEA Games was a preview of their history-making performance, where they also brought home the gold in the doubles category.

This year, Polii was elected as the chair of the Athlete Commission of the World Badminton Association. Of the appointment, she said: “I would like to assist my fellow players achieve their dreams and help out with their requests around competing on the international circuit.”

Read Greysia Polii's and Apriyani Rahayu's full profiles here.

Joe Taslim, Judo (Indonesia)

Joe Taslim's face might seem familiar to a global audience—and that's because he's appeared in Hollywood blockbusters like Fast & Furious 6 (2013), Star Trek: Beyond (2016) and, most recently, in Mortal Kombat (2019). But before he started acting, Taslim was an accomplished martial artist with experience in judo, taekwondo, pencak silat and wushu. He won the silver medal in judo at the 2007 Southeast Asian Games and the gold at the 1999 Southeast Asian Judo Championships.

Read Joe Taslim’s full profile here.

Roger Casugay, Longboard (Philippines)

During the semifinals of the longboard event at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Roger Casugay abandoned his own quest for the gold when he rescued Indonesian competitor Arip Nurdihayat, who was separated from his board by strong waves. He would eventually win the gold medal at the rescheduled event—but more significantly, the athlete was conferred the Order of Lapu-Lapu, one of the highest civilian honours in the Philippines, and became the first Filipino to receive the Pierre de Coubertin Act of Fair Play Award, in Monaco.

Read Roger Casugay’s full profile here. 

Eumir Marcial, Boxing (Philippines)

Eumir Marcial, who has won gold for boxing in the Southeast Asian Games in 2015, 2017 and 2019, seeks to continue his winning streak with his fourth appearance at the regional games this month. The boxer turned pro in 2020, scoring his first win in December of the same year and, another (after surviving three knockdowns against American Isiah Hart) in April 2022. Marcial also took home the bronze for middleweight boxing at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. 

Read Eumir Marcial’s full profile here.

Nesthy Petecio, Boxing (Philippines)

Boxer Nesthy Petecio has a string of medals from the Southeast Asian Games, including one bantamweight silver in 2011, two featherweight silvers in 2013 and 2015, and a featherweight gold in 2019. The champion won the hearts of her countrymen as she took home the silver in the women’s featherweight division at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, especially as she spoke about her impoverished background, her battle with depression, and her uphill battle to excel in a traditionally male sport.

Read Nesthy Petecio’s full profile here.

Lim Teck Yin, Water Polo (Singapore)

Lim Teck Yin has won six gold medals in water polo at the Southeast Asian Games. Now, he is the CEO of Sports Singapore, which seeks to empower Singaporeans by making sports more accessible and inclusive. Recently, Singapore announced Singpore25, its bid to host the World Athletics Championships in 2025. Of the bid, the CEO says, “Southeast Asia’s potential for new fans, partnerships, athletes, and heroes to take athletics to the next level is self-evident—and Singapore25 can be that springboard”.

Read Lim Teck Yin’s full profile here.

Joseph Schooling, Swimming (Singapore)

Of the 31 medals that Joseph Schooling won at the Southeast Asian Games, 27 are gold. The champion swimmer is also Singapore’s first gold medallist at the Olympic Games, winning the 100 m butterfly with a time of 50.39 seconds at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. He has recorded numerous triumphs at the Asian Games and World Aquatics Championships, as well. Schooling comes from a family of athletes, with both parents playing sports (his father played softball, while his mother tennis) and a grand-uncle, Lloyd Valberg, who was Singapore’s first Olympian. In an interview with Yahoo!, the veteran swimmer says he is considering Hanoi as his last appearance in the SEA Games

Read Joseph Schooling’s full profile here.

Discover the changemakers, industry titans and powerful individuals who are making a positive impact on the region in the Asia’s Most Influential list from Tatler.

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