Forgotten Olympian – Khoo Hooi Hye, the Malayan tennis champion who represented China at 1924 Paris Olympics

Unbeknownst to many, a Malayan-born tennis champion made an appearance at the Olympic Games nearly a century ago when he marched at the 1924 opening ceremony in Paris.

Penang-born and raised Khoo Hooi Hye was in Paris for the 1924 Olympics as a member of a four-man delegation – all tennis players – representing China.

That may make him the first Malayan to appear at the Summer Games, three decades before the country sent a contingent to Melbourne in 1956.

Khoo – the first Malayan-born to play at the Wimbledon Championships in 1924 – and his teammates were listed in the Olympics draw for men’s singles and doubles competitions in Paris.

For reasons that remain unclear, all were recorded as having conceded walkovers or “forfait general”.

According to the 1924 Olympic Games official report, Khoo was drawn to face Gerard Leembruggen of the Netherlands in the first round of the singles.

For the doubles competition, Khoo and partner Wu Sze-Cheung were to meet Italians Cesare Colombo and Riccardo Sabbatini in the second round after a first-round bye.

Khoo’s involvement at the 1924 Paris Olympics precedes by 24 years – and after World War II – the trip of another athlete from Penang, footballer Yeap Cheng Eng, to the 1948 London Olympics.

Yeap travelled to London as a member of China’s football team, but he did not play in China’s only match – a 4-0 defeat to Turkey in the first round.

Yeap then returned to Penang to captain his state team to their first Malaya Cup title in 1953.

Born in 1901, Khoo studied at Penang Free School and became one of the finest tennis players in the country and won the Malayan national championships five times between 1923 and 1929.

He also claimed singles and doubles gold medals at the Far Eastern Championship Games – the forerunner of the Asian Games – in 1927.

Before arriving at the Paris Olympics, he played at the 1924 Wimbledon singles and doubles competitions, advancing to the third round in the latter.

Khoo’s exploits earned him an invitation from China’s tennis captain, Wing Lock Wei, to join the team for the Paris Olympics.

Their entries were submitted by the Far Eastern Games Chinese Competition Committee.

Khoo domiciled in Shanghai for several years and even reached the final of the 1935 China National Championships.

Within months of his return to Penang, however, he died aged 35 in July 1936 following an illness, reportedly due to kidney problems.

Khoo’s feats were largely lost to the passage of time as even the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) does not have any information on him but had inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2004.

“Frankly, I have not heard of him. As for OCM, as far as I know, they have no record of him having entered the 1924 Paris Olympic Games and conceded walkovers in the competition,” said former OCM secretary Datuk Sieh Kok Chi.

“Whether he is considered Malaya’s or Malaysia’s first Olympian will depend on the rules of the International Olympic Committee at that time.”