Olympics – So near but yet so far for some.

Posted: June 5, 2012 in Uncategorized
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There were a lot of badminton athletes who collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief at the conclusion of the Olympic qualification period last month. A whole year working, training, travelling and playing to achieve the ultimate prize in sport, a ticket to the Olympic Games.

I was fortunate to be able to travel around Europe for most of the qualification period over the last year and it is hard to put into words the pressure put on these badminton players in their quest to make it to London. Having to deal with the endless hours in Airports and the relentless transfers to tournament venues which, more often than not, were a journey in itself away from the arriving Airport.  I remember on one occasion taking a bus from Budapest in Hungary to Presov in Slovakia to get to a tournament for BETV. The pressure was immense for these players and trying to do it all on a shoestring budget just heightened the tension.

For many the work and the toil was worth it as they secured their qualification quiet early in the campaign. Players like Carolina Marin from Spain and my fellow country woman Chloe Magee had their ticket secured before 2011 drew to a close. Pressure off!!

In recent weeks we have started to see the official unveiling of many of the Badminton squads for London, some understated and uneventful and others milking it for all it is worth. The recent GB team announcement was always going to be the candle on the cake in terms of media hype. (I am still trying to come to terms with those team tracksuits)

But for every winner there is a looser and in the cruel world of Olympic qualification the pain of just missing out must circulate around the veins for months after.

None of us will ever forget the fight Hans-Kristian Vittinghus(pictured left) put up to get on that plane to London and many will agree that the nicest guy in badminton has also been the unluckiest. In what was a great year for the Dane he still missed out by the narrowest of margins to arch rival and close friend Jan O Jorgensen for that second Danish seat on the plane. I certainly rank the Danes matches against Lin Dan in Germany and Lee

Qualification assured!!

Chong Wei at the All England’s as two of the best matches of the year but I would stick my neck out and say that maybe these defeats, although admirable, sealed the Danes fate in the eyes of the powers that be in Denmark.

The one saving grace for Vittinghus was that he knew the odds were always stacked against him in the chase for the second Danish Olympic spot  but anyone that saw the Dane perform had to be inspired by efforts.

Recalling those feelings Vittinghus spoke to BBB

“When the qualifying period ended I was more relieved than anything. I had set a goal of making top 16 so I had a chance of going to London, and I had to

wait to very final week to know my goal had been achieved. In full honesty I can say the moment when Wang Zhengming lost to Taufik and my spot in top 16 was secured made it all worthwhile. It fully overpowers the disappointment of not being selected for the Games by my national federation.
Of course I would have loved to go to London, but I always knew top 16 in itself might not be enough for that. Still this was what I went for and being ranked outside top 30 the year before I’m very proud and very very happy with my improvement in a year where every single tournament is extremely tough. There is no way I can be disappointed about my performance and efforts, I did everything I possibly could over the last 12 months, so I have no regrets. Thinking about what if I’d beat Chong Wei, Lin Dan or someone else doesn’t make sense to me, because I did everything I could to beat them, I just wasn’t good enough at the time. So believe it or not I’ll be looking forward to follow the Games on TV!”

There was also the race for the mixed doubles spot in team GB. How enthralling and eventful was that? We even had the ‘twittergate’ episode as the pressure on all players spilled out of the gym into the public domain. S**t happens and this incident clearly displays the pressure all these players were feeling. Ultimately

Big smiles in Poland

Adcock and Bankier (pictured)won out in the end and I was courtside in Finland and in Karlskrona to witness both wins over Robertson and Wallwork (pictured). For me the this battle did one thing…It underlined the professionalism of the great Nathan Robertson. What a pro even in defeat and I was also lucky to witness Nathan pick up his last international win in Poland and the delight on his face that day will stay with me forever.

While all the focus was on the mixed there was an equally as interesting battle going on in the men’s doubles between Sozonov and Ivanov (Russia) Cwalina & Logosz (Poland) and Adcock and Ellis (Eng). The English ultimately lost out and only if they showed the form they display in beating Kido and Setiawan in Wuhan at the Thomas Cup things might have been different. But the biggest loser was of course Andy Ellis. Chris Adcock will be at the games in the mixed and although Ellis has put on a brave face once again the ‘what ifs’ must be eating him up inside. These games will be particularly tough for Andy as it will be at home so he will not be able to avoid the extravaganza no matter how hard he tries.

Probably the most controversial incident came in India and the Chinese ‘all for one and one for China’ mentality cruelly ended the dream of Ajay Jayaram competing in London. Ajay had been in pole position to go to London that was until Chen Jin threw up yet another dubious Chinese walkover, after doing enough to beat Peter Gade into fourth spot on the world rankings. The walkover allowed Kashyap Parupalli overtake Ajay Jayaram at the final hurdle to book his seat on the plane to London. In my opinion, and this is the reason why I love my own blog this was completely unfair, unethical and definitely against all Olympic values in my opinion.

Of course there were also the few that were never going to make it because of their home Olympic Committee rules. The most high profile of these is Eric Pang from The Netherlands. But then you also had the select few who were always in Limbo and whose fate was not in their own hands

Chan’s Fighting Spirit.

no matter how well they performed. The most unlucky player in this category is without doubt New Zealand player Michelle Chan Ky.

Michelle qualified as top ranked player from Oceania but more significantly for me she qualified as a good player and world ranked 46. Now correct me if I am wrong but New Zealand does not exactly roll off the tongue in badminton terms. Surely logic dictates that New Zealand needs the exposure that the Olympics brings in having their top player compete. Surely this is crucial in the marketing of the sport in New Zealand and to bring new people into the game. Or maybe just maybe they really don’t care and are happy to be seen as one of those countries who just can’t be bothered. Harsh maybe and lambaste me if you must but I have seen the effort this young woman has put into her sport and this snub must be hard for the likeable Kiwi to stomach.

“May was an emotional month for me. Despite qualifying for the Olympics it was always the NZ’ers I had to win over. I was really disappointed that I didn’t have more support from my own country. For me it has been a 4 year battle after moving to Denmark in 2008 to become a fulltime player so I could be surrounded and be in an environment where I can be amongst the best in the world. I was crushed when Badminton NZ didn’t put my nomination through due to the tough criteria of NZOC , but long story short I fought hard to get my nomination in. But in the end it didn’t happen and I guess thats life. It’s taken me some time but I have accepted now that you can’t always get what you want, but what has happened has motivated me more to keep working hard as I believe I am a good player , and in time the people in NZ that don’t believe in me will see that . Yes , I miss out on this Olympics but I know the Olympics alone doesn’t define the player I am or will be, and I will keep fighting everyday to be the best I can be.”

So we are on the countdown now to the greatest show on earth. This show, in badminton terms, will most likely be a watershed in the sport. Lots of the greats will disappear come 5th August. We will likely see greats such as Gade, Hidayat, Chong Wei and Baun, amongst others, compete for the last time at an Olympics. Change is needed in every sport, new blood will push on through and players like Axelsen will become the stars of the future.

It is my wish that the powers that be also seize the opportunity to be bold and make changes however hard the decisions may be and to push our sport in the direction needed. But all that is maybe for another article….

Mark

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Comments
  1. TONY TAN GH says:

    Well written Mark. There is joy for those who qualify and despair for those who didnt. At the end of the day, failure is the “mother” of success. To those who missed out narrowly or because of reasons whatsoever,do not despair and take it as a challenge to mount an even stronger and passionate effort to qualify the next time around. Conratulations to those who qualified. I wish all of you the best. Strut your stuff out there and may the best men/women win.

  2. Ross McNiven says:

    Thanks for the article Mark.

    In light of the decision by Badminton New Zealand not to send Michelle, or indeed James Eunson to the Olympics, it was interesting to read an article by Denis Walsh in last weekends Sunday Times (03.06.12 Sport Section, p17) titled “No Jokers at these Games”. The article suggested that Irish Olympic selection policy should follow that implemented in New Zealand, and supported the idea of only sending medal prospects to the Olympics, as a means to achieve higher performance.

    I’ve quoted some of the article below:

    “When Athletics Ireland appointed Kevin Ankrom as their High Performance Director early last year they acquired not just a leader in his field but a value system. In New Zealand Akrom had thrived in a culture where only excellence was accepted. New Zealand’s population and their resources were equivalent to ours [Ireland’s] but the results they achieved at major championships consistently exceeded Ireland’s. Why? Because their hostility to failure was greater.”

    “New Zealand sent less than a dozen track and field athletes to Beijing and came home with two medals. Ireland sent 16 and delivered two top-eight finishes. Says Ankrom ‘It wasn’t about the A standard, it was about performance. It wasn’t about participation any more, it wasn’t about competing, it wasn’t about crossing the line with an A standard. It was about performance; medals, top eight, top sixteen’.”

    “In May 2009 Peter Banks joined a [Irish] swimming programme with potential … that needed to change. ‘Our athletes have the same ability as anybody else’ he says. ‘It’s just a question of putting the right structures around them. We drew a line in the sand that we were only taking the A standard for the Olympics and people said ‘that’s very hard, we’re not going to have the numbers’. But people stepped up to it. We have four qualified at this stage, more than before’.”

    The article quoted further Irish examples of setting the bar higher in boxing and sailing, and how it was achieving results.

    It will be interesting to see over the next Olympic cycle, what impact the decision to not send Michelle and James to London will have on these players, and their badminton playing compatriots. Will it drive them to a higher performance level, or will it just drive them crazy?

    Ross

    • Good point Ross but to cut a long story short, surely they have to support their athletes in the build up to the games to at least give them the chance? In this case Michelle had to effectively do everything herself with little or no support. Sport needs role models in my opinion and minority sports even more so. The Olympics is supposed to be inclusive, the Olympics is supposed to encourage and promote sport and show no favouritism or elitism. The Olympic Games is supposed to be a platform that embraces athletes from all walks of life across the globe. The international Olympic committee obviously embraces this by having these continental places available.

      I actually agree with the omission of Eunson as he was effectively only part-time with badminton well down his list of priorities. But to omit an athlete who epitomises all that is good in sport, who mostly funded her own campaign, who personifies all that is good is sport is really a glaring mistake in my opinion. Michelle did not just qualify as the top player from Oceania but by right in the BWF world ranking list. The BWF accepted she was good enough to compete by their rules and regulations. This aside what an opportunity missed to develop badminton in NZ by having an Olympic role model to look up to….

      Just to end this is the Olympic Games not the World Championships.. This is not the best competition in the world and it never was or will be but it is the Olympics!

      Mark

      P.s. I love debate and this is the very reason I started this blog.

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