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Badminton,Team GB and Tokyo

The British have chosen 11 players to challenge for medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics but they are not necessarily the athletes we expected to be on the list at the start of June. In an astonishingly brutal decision the Rio bronze medallists – Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge – were dropped in favour of the young guns: Ben Lane and Sean Vendy. Of course, we know that regardless of qualifying via BWF ranking points the final gift of a place is decided by the coaches but it appears to be a decision that was communicated at the eleventh hour. This probably means it’s too late for any sort of meaningful appeal. As an observer I have no inside knowledge but Langridge’s instagram post from June 4th suggests he thought he was part of the team.

Official Logo – picture from Shutterstock

Men’s Doubles: Ben Lane & Sean Vendy

Lane and Vendy were excellent in Thailand in January. They thrived in the bubble and I really feel that their level of performance went up by several notches. The challenge for them now is to maintain that improvement with an eye on the future. Their pathway leads to the Paris Olympics and if they are going to disrupt the stranglehold that Indonesia, Japan and China have on this sector then the hard work is only just beginning. Tokyo offers vital experience and they must use it to enrich their future matches.

Mixed Doubles: Lauren Smith & Marcus Ellis

These two can go toe-to-toe with the best and I’m very excited about their chances for a medal. Ellis is a fantastic athlete: he never gives up and keeps fighting right to the end. His chippy attitude often means he seizes victory in 50/50 situations or even when defeat seems to be looming. It’s disappointing that he can’t defend his MD Bronze, however playing less games will narrow his focus and may help his load management. XD glory ultimately will stem from Lauren Smith and how she plays in the tournament. It’s vital that their strategies reflect her importance and the essential interceptions that Ellis can give at the net.

Women’s Singles: Kirsty Gilmour

This is Kirsty Gilmour’s second Olympics and it was no surprise that she qualified for the competition. Her title win at the 2020 SaarLorLux and especially her hard-fought semi-final triumph over Carolina Marin showed what a wholehearted competitor she is. She’s had a few injury niggles and training disruption but I hope she can progress through the tournament.

Men’s Singles: Toby Penty plus ParaBadminton Dan Bethell (SL3), Jack Shephard (SH6) and Krysten Coombes (SH6)

Penty will be making his Olympic debut in Tokyo so it will be interesting to see how he progresses and uses the experience to push on to – for instance – a possible medal at the Commonwealth Games next year. A lot is going to depend on the draw and his reaction to the pressure of the tournament.

Dan Bethell – who upgraded from tennis to badminton a while ago – has a genuine shot at Gold in his category (SL3) at the Parabadminton tournament. He won Silver at the World Championships in Basle 2019 and was beaten by Pramod Bhagat that day. The Indian is a superb player who has a habit of winning, so Bethell must be at his best if he wants to be on top of the podium.

Jack Shephard is an athlete who will be disappointed if he doesn’t win Gold in the SH6 class. He successfully defended his 2017 World Title in 2019 and he is the player all the others have to beat. Krysten Coombes – world #5 – is in the same sector. He won European Gold in 2016 and so knows what it takes to win high pressure games.

Women’s Doubles: Chloe Birch & Lauren Smith.

These two won silver at the European Games a couple of years ago and would be considered one of the best pairs in Europe. How far they progress is hard to predict simply because the duos from Japan, China, and Korea tend to dominate top level tournaments. A good draw and quick adjustment to local conditions could see them advance.

Men’s WH2: Martin Rooke

Rooke is a well-known competitor in both the singles and doubles of WH2. He’s one of those players who has a habit of winning so it would be no surprise to see him on the podium in Tokyo.

Can I Mention Rachel Choong?

I’m extremely disappointed that the first Paralympics to include badminton also excludes multiple world champion Rachel Choong. Her SH6 category is not included this time. Actually, it’s just the women’s SH6 that is left out, Jack Shephard and Krysten Coombes who is in the men’s SH6 will be in Tokyo. Perhaps someone can clarify the reason for this? I’m told it’s partly because when the programme for the parabadminton was announced the women’s SH6 did not have a wide global representation. Hopefully Paris 2024 will see this rectified.

Conclusions

Our Team GB athletes have four realistic chances of parabadminton medals including Gold and a chance of a further medal in the able-bodied sector. It has been a very hard year for all competitors and some nations have found it easier than others to maintain the function of a national training centre, to hold meaningful national competitions or to run Olympic Simulations.

Back in 2010 there was a magazine article http://www.theleisurereview.co.uk/articles10/christy.html that claimed Badminton England’s strategy was to be the number one badminton nation by 2016. That was a pretty taxing target but nevertheless the mission statement in 2021 still says that “Olympic success [is] at the heart of our ambitions”. The harsh truth is that success brings funding so it’s crucial that the national body can point to victories that show progress, that engage the population at large and inspire the next generation. It’s disappointing that there are no women athletes from the parabadminton community that have qualified. Of the 11 people travelling to compete only 3 are female; perhaps I can count Lauren Smith twice as she will compete in two sectors but whatever way we look at it something is not working. In terms of representing the community at large it might also be worth considering the lack of apparent diversity in the athletes backgrounds and whether this means that there is a source of talent that is not being included. I don’t know, I don’t have accurate information to hand regarding this.

The Olympics is always a hard competition to call. I hope that our athletes thrive and play their best games. It’s been a long journey to get to this point and all our players deserve their spots and the opportunity to compete against the best.


Thanks to all my friends on twitter for sharing their thoughts about the Olympics. If you enjoyed this then take a look at my recent article about the MD world Number 1s https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/06/06/kevin-marcus-and-tokyo-gold/

Olympic previews are here. Women’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/19/the-olympics-womens-doubles-preview/ Women’s Singles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/17/the-olympics-womens-singles-preview/ Men’s Doubles https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/15/the-olympics-mens-doubles-preview/ and Mixed https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2021/07/14/the-olympics-mixed-doubles-preview/


©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton Outliers

Sometimes players burst onto the badminton scene from nations with no obvious tradition in the sport. It’s a fascinating topic to examine, not least because it includes some of our favourites. It’s remarkable that the majority of these athletes are women who play singles. Here are people who have had to break down barriers at every point in their careers and it’s arguable that a resolute focus translates best to the singles game. The loneliness of the court, often with no support staff can be a difficult challenge. To be able to meet the challenge and succeed takes an exceptional person.

Carolina Marin. The current Olympic Champion hails from a country that has never enjoyed headline success in badminton yet she has won the World Championships 3 times and has been on the podium at just about every BWF tournament at some time in her career. Initially she loved flamenco, but after watching a friend play badminton she was hooked. The sport had such a low profile in Spain it’s said that her parents had not even heard of it when she asked for her own racket. It’s important to her story that her coach – Fernando Rivas – has also been a single-minded pioneer. He is a sports scientist who has studied badminton and conducted research in other European countries. He had been a player but not the country’s best. When he arrived at the national training centre in Spain (2005) he encountered signifiicant resistence to his new approach. The prevalent culture had been shaped by an influential coach who had left but there was a reluctance to embrace a different style. The rise of Marin could not have happened without Rivas and his development of a new way of training. Likewise Rivas needed a talent like Marin to prove that his methods worked. Clearly they do; the next step is to see if a badminton legacy is created and Spain becomes a European powerhouse of the sport.

Saina Nehwal. Today Saina is a worldwide superstar whose appeal reaches far beyond sport. It’s not true to say that badminton was unknown in India before she came along because Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand had been high profile men’s shuttlers – both winners of the All England amongst other titles. Nevertheless Saina elevated the game and contributed hugely to the normalisation of women’s participation in it in so many countries. Often in the early days, her career was characterised by the phrase ‘Saina versus China’ because the world scene was dominated by exceptional Chinese players. Her determination and stubborness got her to the point where she could compete with – and beat – the world’s best. She is an inspiration to millions of people who have taken up the sport because of her. A true trailblazer.

Michelle Li is the best Canadian to compete in World badminton. Although she was born in Hong Kong her playing career began after her family settled in Canada. She receives no financial support so has to fund her tournament participation. Despite this she is a top 15 WS, who has come back from serious knee surgery

“…I kind of do everything on my own. When I’m in Canada I don’t have any training because I don’t have anyone to train with…most of my training happens in tournaments…For sure, if I win a medal in Tokyo it will get better. Nobody in Canada expected me to do well. If I can generate better results for Canada, it will change the situation.

Michelle Li in Sportstar.

Kirsty Gilmour is Scotland’s stand-out player. Recently the Scottish women’s team qualified for the Uber Cup and will make their debut in the competition with Gilmour as a key component. Although Britain has a vibrant badminton community, athletes who make it into the world top 30 are not common and it’s a tribute to her dedication that she can go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. She set her sights on Olympic qualification and this has taken her on what can be a lonely road to get enough points. She often has to compete with no coach at her side but should qualify for Tokyo as a member of TeamGB.

It’s not true to claim that these players came out of nowhere. They are athletes who have emerged from a club environment with an extra spark that has driven them to new competitive heights. Most of them are self-funded with a tiny support network compared to Chinese or Indonesian players. There are plenty more that I could have looked at: Beiwen Zhang (USA) and Yvonne Li (Germany) are two obvious examples. They are typically women who have had to work hard and sacrifice things along the way to achieve a dream. I hope we see them all compete successfully at the Olympics and continue to inspire others to enjoy a wonderful sport.


If you enjoyed this take a look at my longer article about Saina https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/10/08/indias-saina-nehwal-trailblazer-legend/

©2021 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton & TeamGB: 2019 European Games

England were magnificent in their Sudirman Cup games against Denmark this year. The matches were full of courage, a refusal to give in and the desire to beat their main rivals for European supremacy. England eventually won the tie 3-2 by triumphing in all the doubles disciplines and this included Chloe Birch, Lauren Smith and Marcus Ellis playing in two 3 game matches each


England upgrades to become TeamGB for the European Games starting in Minsk on June 21st and the key difference for the badminton contingent is that the Scot, Kirsty Gilmour is a potent addition to the Women’s Singles. She is a powerful athlete: the third seed with a great chance of getting to the medal stages of the tournament. She is very energetic – not bothered about grazing her knees as she dives around – and never hesitates to give everything to defend a point. Chloe Birch is seeded 8 and will get through her group; as in the Sudirman Cup she is playing in two disciplines – unusually in modern times she competes in both singles and doubles.

video by kind permission BWF

Lauren Smith and Chloe Birch were the two players who brought it home for England against Denmark. It was a glorious game; on a knife edge throughout. If you take a look at the BWF highlights above you can see they showed immense bravery and character to clinch it – watching their relief and elation at the end was very exciting. They defeated Sara Thygesen and Maiken Fruergaard and coincidently they have drawn each other again in the group stages. It’s bound to be a spicy encounter with the Danes out for revenge but even though they are the top seeds they are the ones who should be nervous. Smith and Birch are in a winning habit this year; they have already triumphed in the Orleans Masters and the Azerbaijan International Open. The Stoeva sisters are absent because of a dispute with their national body so I see the British duo as the best Women’s Doubles pair in Europe at the moment. They are genuine contenders for gold.

Toby Penty performed well against Viktor and took him to 3 games in his Sudirman Cup tie. His autoimmune condition has been in the news recently but as he has said, on court is where he can feel like himself and concentrate on the game. He’ll get through his group but after that it’s hard to predict how far he can progress. Axelsen has withdrawn owing to allergies so arguably he and Antonsen are the two top players in Minsk. Penty’s form is coming good at the right time too following his recent silver medal at the Spanish International. Men’s Doubles sees Marcus Ellis partnering Chris Langridge. These two are battle hardened campaigners: I always feel eager to watch them because I know they will give everything – remember the ‘cramp collapse’ at the end of the SC tie? They play to win and are a great partnership – a good example of two players who support each other to success.

TeamGB has the top two seeds in Mixed Doubles. Britain’s best-known shuttlers – the Adcocks – are competing as top seeds and should progress through Group A without too much fuss. the start of 2019 was a bit lukewarm, mainly due to niggly injuries but they had a pretty good tournament at the Australian Open in June, reaching the quarter finals. Always ambitious, they have the drive and courage to take this title and I assume this is part of their pathway to realise their desire for Olympic Gold in 2020.

Lauren Smith and Marcus Ellis are also competing in the XD in Group B and may be asked some tough questions before they get to the knock out stages. In the Sudirman Cup they held their nerve in a tricky match. Smith is physically strong and bold so I don’t think it is easy to intimidate her at the net. The dream is for them to meet the Adcocks in the final and at that point anything could happen!

It’s always a thrill to follow tournaments like this and I think TeamGB have got the talent and character to dominate in the badminton. The Sudirman Cup showed that the British players have the mental strength to step up and challenge the Danes; at this level results often turn on a refusal to give in, to chase, and just sheer hard work and we’ve proved we’ve got that. It would be a shock if significant medals went to anyone other than Denmark or GB and in this year leading up to Tokyo 2020 being in the winning habit is going to pay dividends.


©2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved