But Vanessa Neo isn’t in the least bit bothered by the eight naturalised shuttlers flying up to Myanmar with her, two of whom she will partner in the women’s and mixed doubles events.
“Everybody's a friend,” said the 26-year-old. “There’s no differentiation between ‘local born-and-bred’ and ‘foreigners’.”
“We’re a team, we’re all Singaporeans, and our goal is to get the highest glory for Singapore,” Neo added.
Her mixed doubles pairing with Danny Bawa Chrisnanta was once ranked ninth in the world, and recently triumphed at the Dutch Open in October.
Despite this being the duo’s first SEA Games outing, Indonesian-born Chrisnanta is confident of their chances.
“My preparation has been good. I went to a few competitions and played against a few of the opponents we’ll face at the Games,” he said. “I know what to do, I’m ready and I don’t promise anything but I want a medal.”
“It’ll be good for me. She’s more experienced and faced pressure during the 2011 Games,” said Neo. “It’s something to learn from and she can guide me along.”
They won’t face any communication issues either. Neo is fluent in Mandarin, but as her China-born partner cheerfully told Yahoo Singapore, she can converse in “not just English but Singlish too, lah.”
Raising the bar
Contrary to the naysayers, Neo, one of only two born-and-bred Singaporeans in the SEA Games squad, is in full support of Singapore’s injection of ‘foreign talent’ into sports.
“It’s a good thing, they bring up the standard in Singapore,” said the affable girlfriend of star shuttler Derek Wong. “When more come, the benchmark goes higher and for me, I always want to work towards exceeding them.”
This competitive streak saw the former Rafflesian drop out of junior college to turn professional, an experience she said she has “enjoyed” without regret in the 10 years that have passed since.
Instead, she took a diploma course on the sidelines while undergoing intensive training with the national set-up.
Not the kind of decision most Singaporean parents would get behind, but Neo’s folks are passionate about badminton and introduced their eldest daughter to the sport at the age of nine.
Mom and dad, both bankers, were in fact the ones who asked if she would want to consider playing full time, said Neo.
She has also received support from sponsors Fuji Xerox, who “adopted” her and Chrisnanta to the tune of up to S$35,000, in hopes of them reaching the Olympics in 2016.
Indeed, to step out onto the courts at Rio, Brazil in 2016 is her “ultimate dream”, said Neo.
Her target lies only a short three years away, a fact well-appreciated by the petite shuttler, who bristled with quiet determination as she said, “I’m running out of time, so I’m definitely working much harder now.”
The Olympics represent her “final, last goal”, after which she says she will retire and hit the books again, in search of a degree to expand on her diploma in sports science.
But either way, she’s not ready to entirely remove badminton from her life.
“I’ll most probably still stay in the field,” said Neo, hinting at a possible coaching gig.“Badminton has given so much to me… it will be time to pay it back.”
Singapore's badminton team launch their SEA Games campaign on 10 December. Catch all the action at the 2013 SEA Games from 5 - 22 December in Myanmar, on Yahoo Singapore.
Read more stories on Singapore at the 2013 SEA Games, here.