The confidence and drive of players from nations with no badminton pedigree was an encouraging sign at the recent Youth Olympic Games.
While there was little surprise at Asia’s overall dominance, despite representation from 38 nations, it was refreshing to see competitors from non-traditional badminton countries defying the odds to test themselves at such a high level.
These players face a range of challenges such as the lack of a training set-up, the need to focus on studies and not enough money to dedicate to badminton. Yet, some remain keen on pursuing the sport even further and have already started to overcome their challenges either by relocating to badminton powerhouses or seeking training opportunities at Asian and European clubs.
A case in point is Luis Ramon Garrido (featured image) of Mexico. Having started playing at the age of two – thanks to his father, a sports teacher – Garrido knew he had little chance of improving his game if he stayed in Mexico. He approached Guatemalan player Pedro Yang, who put him in touch with well-known coach Michael Kjeldsen in Copenhagen. Garrido moved to Denmark two years ago and has been turning out for Greve in the second division league. He does his education online and his university sponsors his trips to international tournaments.
“It’s really hard to be motivated in Mexico,” noted Garrido.
“I’m from a country where badminton is not recognised. I didn’t have any support. So I had to move to Denmark. That’s how I keep my motivation, training every day at the Kjeldsen’s International Badminton Academy.”
Another player with higher ambitions is Maja Pavlinic (above) from Croatia. A fourth-round loser at the World Junior Championships and semi-finalist at the Italian Junior International, Pavlinic is planning to play in the French league to improve her game.
“I would like to be a badminton professional,” revealed Pavlinic. “At the moment, I have eight hours of school, so I can train only after that. I think I can be good. I have two more years of school left. Next year I’ll go to Bordeaux to play with a club there, and continue my schooling too.”
Pavlinic trained for a month in the Indonesian club Djarum before the Youth Olympics and is confident that if she has access to full-time training like her Asian opponents, her performance could improve greatly.
Similarly, Abdelrahman Abdelhakim (left) of Egypt, whose goal is to participate in the Olympics, trained in Malaysia before the Youth Olympic Games.
“After I played the World Junior Championships, my level went up,” said Abdelhakim.
“I was in Malaysia for a month before the Youth Olympics and that changed everything for me. The main difference between us and the Asian players is training. I have school and university to attend to; I don’t have time for badminton. I was in Malaysia for a month and I improved. I wish I could be a full-time professional. The circumstances are not conducive in my country but I will do my best to keep focusing on training. I want to play in the next few Olympic Games.”
One of the biggest side-stories of the Youth Olympics was the performance of Brazilian Ygor Coelho De Oliveira (right) who learnt his game at a club with the barest infrastructure. Oliveira gave a good account of himself against World Junior champion Lin Gui Pu of China and was extensively featured in the local press. A media team even helped him get a one-hour session with former World champion Sun Jun.
“I hope I can come back to China and attend a training camp here,” said Oliveira, who believes the Rio Olympics will increase badminton’s popularity in Brazil.
It will not be an easy journey for these players as they will be required to give up their comfort zones; missing family and friends.
As Garrido says: “I come from a hot country and it can get really cold in Denmark. It was tough moving to Copenhagen because you have to do everything for yourself. It’s tiring, you have to wake up early, train, make your food and everything else. But if you love badminton, you have to take every opportunity – whatever it takes.
“One year ago my goal was to be in Nanjing. I took the chance. I want to be one of the world’s best players. I want to work hard. Let’s see what happens.”
Garrido can take inspiration from one of the most significant results in badminton: the crowning of Spain’s Carolina Marin as World champion.
Training stints in Indonesia and Thailand helped Marin overcome the deficiencies of hailing from a country without a rooted badminton tradition.
Surely as they watched the dramatic events at the Li-Ning BWF World Championships last weekend, the likes of Garrido must be saying: “If Carolina can, I can too!”