Thursday, August 11, 2016
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE I SHI TANG
For some it’s tough playing just one match a day in Olympic Badminton but five athletes will play at least six matches in four days as they go for gold in two events.
Should Zhang Nan (China), Christinna Pedersen (Denmark), Michael Fuchs (Germany), Selena Piek (featured photo; Netherlands) or Philip Chew (USA) progress beyond the group stage in both disciplines, their energy and stamina – both physical and mental – will be tested even further.
Four years ago, Zhang’s Mixed Doubles partner, Zhao Yunlei, showed her prowess, becoming the first badminton player to win two golds at the same Summer Games, also claiming the Women’s Doubles with Tian Qing. While they are not defending that title, Zhang has the chance to emulate Zhao’s feat as he also competes in Men’s Doubles with Fu Haifeng.
“I am really honoured to play two events for China and I will try to win gold in both,” said a relaxed Zhang after his final practice in Rio today.
“It should not be too difficult or different to other tournaments as I have been playing Men’s and Mixed Doubles for the past four years.”
However, the 26-year-old conceded it requires good time management in training and at competitions, depending on when his matches are scheduled.
“In training, I often have back-to-back practice sessions with my two partners. During events, I try to rest and recuperate between my matches. It’s a little harder but it’s worth it, especially when we win.”
Ironically, Michael Fuchs has been drawn in both of Zhang’s groups as he too goes for double glory with Johannes Schoettler (Men’s Doubles) and Birgit Michels (Mixed Doubles). As fate would have it, Philip Chew is also in the same Men’s Doubles group as Zhang and Fuchs, partnered by Sattawat Pongnairat. Chew and Jamie Subandhi will contest Mixed Doubles.
“Mixed Doubles will be tough. Our first match is against Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei – just like in London 2012 when we had the opening match,” said Fuchs.
“Men’s Doubles is also a tough draw with Zhang again as well as the Malaysians and the Americans – but it’s better than Mixed Doubles.”
Regarding his preparation for Rio 2016, the veteran German player is pleased with his Olympics run-up, stating “I have no major injuries and I have prepared as well as I possibly could”.
“I am in good shape. Yes, it means six matches in the first three days but I knew that way back when I started trying to qualify in both events.
“I knew what I would have to go through and I am prepared for it. We will see what we can do.”
Meanwhile, London 2012 bronze medallist in Mixed Doubles and seasoned player, Christinna Pedersen, has arrived in the Brazilian city “feeling strong and in good condition” but the Danish star is keenly aware of how she must prepare and preserve herself to be successful in both Women’s and Mixed Doubles.
“I’m four years older and I need to be aware of that and know how to take care of my body. The most important part is to recover and to be ready to play each day because we will be playing world-class players and the matches will be hard,” said the 30-year-old.
Giving a glimpse into her routine, Pedersen revealed she eats two to three hours before matches, regardless of whether she is playing early or late in the day.
“I don’t like to eat close to matches. It’s important to have a good plan for eating.”
Rest and feeling settled are also important and, in that regard, she made sure to arrive in Rio a week before the Badminton Competition, with her respective partners Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Joachim Fischer Nielsen.
“It was easier travelling to Rio than to Asia as the time difference is less. It was good for me to come early and relax and enjoy the Opening Ceremony and appreciate the Olympic atmosphere a bit.
“Since Monday though I have been focusing on badminton. We have had some good training here at the venue and now I am mostly staying in my room, reading and relaxing. It may be boring but I want to be ready to play well.”
While Pedersen brings a wealth of experience to Rio 2016, it is Selena Piek’s first outing at sport’s highest level. Still, the level-headed Dutchwoman is taking her qualification in both the Women’s and Mixed Doubles competitions in stride.
“I don’t think it’s difficult, because I’ve been playing both all my life. I think the hardest part is staying sharp mentally, because you need to do everything twice. You need to prepare twice, train twice, exercise twice; Jacco (Arends) needs me, Eefje (Muskens) needs me,” she said candidly.
“It can be tough if you’ve lost, and you need to focus again. It can also help you, because you have another match (to look forward to). I see it as a benefit. I think it makes me a better player.”
As for what it will take to excel in both events, the 24-year-old noted “we need to be sharp from the beginning…ready to play at our best”.
Piek is fired up to do that – at the double!