Archive for June, 2012

Li Xuerui – Arguably the best in the world on form

With the Olympics just around the corner as of late I have found myself being drawn towards the happenings in the women’s singles more so than any other of the four badminton disciplines. I cannot quiet put my finger on the reason why but maybe it is something to do with the fact that I believe this to be the discipline that the rest of the world has the most opportunity to take victory away from China come the 5th of August. With the help of Germany’s singles specialist Olga Konon I will attempt to give some insight into the women’s singles competition in London and examine the likely medalists and see can anyone beat the Chinese?

First and foremost it has baffled me how China somehow managed to miscalculate the arrival of Li Xuerui on the scene with the All England champion missing out on qualification for the Olympics in fourth spot. The Chinese have become world renowned for their painstakingly accurate calculation of points, and some would say results, in Olympic qualification year and not having the best player in the world in the last year on your Olympic team appears to me to go against all that China stands for.

Maybe I am completely mistaken and the Chinese wonder kid just blossomed two weeks two late as she pole-vaulted her way up the world rankings but not to have her in their Olympic ranks is somewhat unfortunate or maybe the Chinese just feel so confident that their experienced trio of Wangs have exactly what it takes to bring home gold for China and the youthful Li Xuerui will be held on ice until Rio. But Li Xuerui has come off the back of 30 straight wins and had not lost a match since January and in the process won four straight titles in a row, that to me is a big gamble.

Looking at the trio of Wang’s, it’s Yihan who looks the biggest threat to the top step of the Olympic Podium. Wang Yihan has been simple the best and most consistent singles player on tour over the past 3 years. On Paper Wang Yihan is the one everyone has to beat. She has a superior win loss ratio over both Wang Shixian and Wang Xin but that is assuming the biggest threat will come from her compatriots. I am not

Tine – Timing it just right

so sure this is the case!

It is clear from recent tournament form that world number 5 Saina Nehwal has got the bit firmly between her teeth as she heads towards London.

In Indonesia recently Nehwal literally ran Wang Shixian into the ground displaying a new found level of fitness that had the Chinese buckled over in exhaustion for many of the concluding rallies of that match. Nehwals fitness levels were always her Achilles heel in top level tight matches but a visibly trimmed down and fighting fit Nehwal looks to have really taken the meaning of match fitness to a uber high new level. It has been reported that she has shed up to 5.5kg’s of weight in her Olympic preparation but more important lost none of that power in doing so.In Indonesia Saina beat Wang Shixian and more important ended the run of Li Xuerui on her march to a fifth straight title. Li Xuerui had already beaten Wang Yihan so all the evidence would suggest that India’s Saina Nehwal is a real force to be reckoned with for Olympic gold.

Olga’s View: To compete with the Chinese is often a mental block as well as being purely a question of talent. But to compete with the Chinese you need to have to have a minimum standard like being in worlds top 16 and having the mental capabilities to match them on court. Also many players have played in previous Olympics and one way or the other they will generally have memories of defeat. It is important for all the non Chinese players to remember to bring positive thoughts to the games. The Olympics adds extra pressure even more than the worlds or any other tournament that is why a mentally strong athlete will most likely perform better. One thing is clear and that is Saina Newhal is mentally tough and ready to take on the challenge at the Olympics.

The Indonesian Open threw up another spanner in the Chinese works in the form of Tine Baun. The great Danes struggle with injury over the past 18 months has been well documented. She has had to suffer through the pain barrier just to compete and really over the course of this Olympic campaign has been a shadow of her former self. That was until the Europeans in Sweden a few months ago I saw a new and revived Tine Baun in Karlskrona and in an interview she explained the reasons why.

Wang Yihan – Can she be the new Zhang Ning

“It is really great for me to come to a tournament at last and be pain free. To be able to go on court and be confident in my physical shape again is a major relief. I now feel I can play my shots and compete again and yes it has put a smile on my face”

Hearing this of course was one thing seeing the results was always going to be another. Tine cruised to that European title and in the Indonesian Open just gone even in defeat in two very close sets, to her long standing rival Wang Yihan, Baun has started to shown signs of her former self and all just at the right time. Tine has always misfired at the majors and this will be her last chance to shine and like Nehwal she will leave no stone unturned in her quest for a medal.

Olga’s View:  One of the biggest things that gets in the way of top players fulfilling their real potential is of course Injury. But in the case of Tine Baun I think the series of injures she has had can actually motivate her and makes her the great athlete she is. There is no escaping injury at the top level, I can personally vouch for that but I do believe it makes you stronger. I fully expect Tine to be in great shape physically and more so mentally come the Olympics. She has a proven record and has a lot to prove at major championship level. I think we have seen a new Tine in last few months and she is the one to watch in my opinon.What about the rest, well it is clear that on her day Juliane Schenk of Germany has the power to trouble any of the top players. The German is renowned for her superior levels of fitness and her power is her main weapon. A recent win at The Singapore Super Series, her maiden Super Series win, is sure to have pushed the German to the next level mentally and the Chinese will need to be fully prepared and aware of this. However, Schenk needs firstly to find a good draw and then be fully concentrated in the early rounds as sometimes she finds it difficult to play her top game against lesser ranked players.

Following on behind we have the young brigade of pretenders to the throne. The likes of Inthanon Ratchanok, Sung Ji Hyun and Carolina Marin are all

Nehwal – A new woman with a new focus

capable of upsets but will really have to find a string of performances like never before to reach the podium.

Olga’s View: Great form for me does not count for much when the Olympics comes around. Yes Juliane has had a great win in Singapore but to me the Olympics is more about the mental side of a players game. I think Schenk, Inthanon and Sung Ji Hyun have the capabilities to combine all the attributes needed to bring it all together at the Olympics and I really think this women’s singles will be very interesting but a lot will depend on the draw. I do expect a big battle for the medals and there is a chance for a non Chinese to step on the podium but as always the Chinese will be ready and they will expect a tough battle.

The truth been known the Olympics is not the greatest tournament to be played all year but it does give the opportunity for one of those once off fairytale upsets and a lot really can boil down to the draw. A good first round draw allows the top players to ease into the competition and find their feet; this is something the likes of Tine Baun needs after her Beijing disaster. A tough draw can result in a top player heading home early as even the best of the best can find it hard to get to grips with the mental challenge that is the Olympics.

All in all it promises to be a fascinating event and one I am looking forward to witnessing. Can anyone knock the Chinese off their Olympic throne? There is a real possibility for sure but don’t be surprised if the great Chinese badminton juggernaut rolls home to Beijing with another 5 gold medals.

(All opinions expressed are purely that of the author unless otherwise stated) Photo 1 by Badminton Photo, Photo 2,  3 & 4 Mark Phelan private collection


Never to late to make a difference

After a very successful flashmob in 2011 with 65 cities taking part, Solibad the badminton charity will once again hold its legendary flashmob around the world with over 100 cities already signed up for the extravaganza on September 29th.

The September Flashmob is not just about raising funds but also building awareness about the many projects that Solibad is currently involved in globally. This year many of badmintons top stars will lead the Flashmobs worldwide with a new Solibad dance to accompany this new 2012 Flashmob.

Click HERE to go to the official flashmob site and view the video from the 2011 edition and click HERE to watch the video of a night with the stars as part of the Solibad celebrations in 2012.

(OHhhhhhhh and I look forward to the day when Solibad have media people as Ambassadors)

I will be at the Flashmob in Brno in the Czech Republic on September 29th. Where will you be??

Overwhelming Support for Gade

Two weeks ago I asked the question via online Poll, should Peter Gade have retired earlier? Along with the option of a yes or no answer I offered the opportunity to give some comment to accompany your vote. The maximum quota of votes was set at 300 and that quota was reached over the weekend.

It came as no real surprise to me that there is still huge support for Gade out there in Badmintonland but what was a surprise was the level of support based on the results found.

Out of the 300 poll votes cast a massive 284 voted ‘NO’ Gade should not have retired earlier.

Only 16 voted ‘YES’ he should have retired earlier.

In percentage terms that is just about 95% support for Gade which by any measure is conclusive.

Some of the comments of support were as follows. In all there were 61 comments to accompany ‘No’ votes. There were no comments by any who voted ‘YES’

“He’s still in with a fighting chance in almost every match he plays. He knows what he has to do to reach his target at the Olympics and assuming he can get over his injury troubles, he has the potential to perform well. Let’s give him the chance, he deserves it…”

“No because I understand his desire to make the Olympics his last tournament and he still is capable of playing great badminton, even if he cannot do it consistently. He is still a great player and deserves a chance at the Olympic medal.”

“None of us mere mortals are in any position to question Peter Gades motives.”



Konon winning in Belgium

It’s time for another instalment of Player 2 Player questions. Again two willing victims have agreed to set and then answer questions without knowing the identity of their P2P pen friend.

I have just realised that a pattern is starting to emerge where its the girl that asks the questions and the boy who answers. (note to self, change this for future editions)

Asking the questions this time is Germany’s Olga Konon. Olga will be remembered for her part helping Germany to lift the women’s team title this year in Amsterdam breaking the stranglehold of Denmark. Olga is also a multiple winner on the BE circuit  and burst onto the international badminton scene with a dramatic win over Wang Shixian in the French open in 2009.

Answering the questions is one of Denmark’s young guns, Rasmus Fladberg. Rasmus started life as a doubles specialist and won the Swedish International in 2011 while still a junior with his partner Kim Astrup. Rasmus won silver medal at the European Juniors in men’s singles behind Viktor Axelsen and has since concentrated on men’s singles and won his first senior international at the Croatian International in 2011. Rasmus was also part of the Danish team that won the European Men’s Team Championship in 2012

 1. Olga: What would be the first thing you would do if today was your last day? Rasmus: I would spend it with the ones I care about – my family and friends. They make me happy, and it’s certain that you can never use enough time with them.

2. Olga: What’s your own definition of happiness ? Rasmus: Happiness is something which comes deep inside everyone and brings dozens of good feelings along. Your’re the only one to count and decide what matters in the sense of being happy.

3. Olga: What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge? Rasmus: Personally, my biggest challenge is to turn down my own ambitions. Whetever I’m at university, on the court or at home I tend to get the feeling that nothing but the very best is good enough. This perfectionistic characteristica seems to struggle with my temper and causes frustrations when I don’t succeed. But I’m trying to deal with this accepting the fact that you can’t be perfect all the time.

4. Olga: Are you a good dancer and how would you describe yourself as a dancer? Rasmus: I’m an extremely talented dancer (if dancing wasn’t about moving legs and arms simultaneously). especially I do very well in the specific genre called “monkey dance”, which is well spread among the danish youth.My dancing career peaked with lanciers at the ball on my previous school. This memorable event started and stopped my dancing career as well.

5. Olga: Where would you take a girl on a first date? Rasmus: I would definitely take her to the Frederiksberg Gardens. I live in Frederiksberg (Copenhagen) and in the middle of all traffic and noise you’ll find this charming and wonderful piece of nature with tons of nice places to go.

6. Olga: What was the best advice you were ever been given? Rasmus: I was once told the quote “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues”. Even though you properly can’t call it an advice – this is how it has worked out for me.

Fladberg on winning ways

7. Olga: What would I find in your refrigerator now? Rasmus: You will properly find what’s left of yesterdays hot and spicy Wok-dish. I love this kind of food where you can experiment and mix all kinds of different ingredients into one dish. Otherwise I’ll have what is needed in a refrigerator, all the basics.

8. Olga: How often do you check yourself out in the mirror, hair, body, clothes etc.? (be honest)  Rasmus: Honestly I don’t check myself out in the mirror every morning before a session in hall. My teammates will sign for that for sure. But otherwise, when I go to uni or anything else I will check myself in the mirror. We are all a bit perfectionistic about our looks in some manner, aren’t we?

9. Olga: What was your most embarrassing moment connected to badminton? ( tournament, training, etc.) Rasmus:Was probably my match against Kevin Cordon in Croatia International 2011. Have never felt so embarrased at court as nothing in my game seemed to strike.

10. Olga: What drives you mad? Rasmus: It drives me mad when people take things for granted, not willing to help each other out. This is the first thing we could do, so why shouldn’t we?

Smiling as always – Ella Diehl

Ella Diehl is regarded as the best women’s singles player to come out of Russia. Ella spent most of her illustrious career inside the worlds top 20 and was always known for her attention to detail and her cross court sliced drop is legendary. The winner of 14 national titles, bronze medal at the Europeans in Manchester in 2010 and countless Badminton Europe Circuit wins rank as some of her major achievements. Her victory over Lu Lan of China, the world champion at the time, in the Swiss Open Super Series 1/4 final was one of the greatest individual wins of her career.

I caught up with Ella as part of my Badminton Europe duties at the recent European Mens & Women’s teams championships where she came out of retirement to play for Russia. To hear the full video interview just click HERE