Competing in her fourth Olympic Games, Anu Nieminen experienced something today she had not done in three previous Olympiads – the thrill of victory.
The Finnish Women’s Singles competitor – clearly a proponent of the old adage “try, try, try again” – has braved injury and disappointment and is still determined to mix it with badminton’s best.
Having first represented her homeland in Sydney 2000 and now achieving the rare distinction of a selection four-peat, the veteran finally broke her Olympics jinx with a straight-games win 21-12 21-18 over Mexico’s Victoria Montero in the afternoon session of the first day of play.
However, Nieminen’s success was not without difficulty as she struggled with the pressure of being the favourite and showed real signs of nerves as she stepped onto the court.
“I felt so nervous today. Before I was never expected to win but this year was different with the new group format. I was lucky to win the first game,” said the 34-year-old.
In the second game, Nieminen looked uncomfortable and seemed to be slipping from bad to worse as she struggled to find any rhythm.
“The second game was just awful but at least I have finally won a match at the Olympics which I can be happy about.”
As she exited the court, one of badminton’s Olympic veterans entered the arena but unlike the Finn, Taufik Hidayat boasts an impressive Olympic record.
The 2004 Men’s Singles gold medallist was up against Petr Koukal who distinguished himself in last night’s Opening Ceremony as the Czech Republic’s flagbearer. Maybe the late night affected him today as he was definitely second best, feeling the full brunt of the Indonesian’s attack.
“He (Hidayat) was just amazing today and I had no answers. He hit every line and he looks so hungry to win a medal here,” acknowledged 26-year-old Koukal.
Hidayat, by contrast, appeared relaxed not only during the match but in meeting the media afterwards. On hearing that Lin Dan made an appearance to do some reconnaissance on one of his big rivals, Hidayat jokingly commented: “It is nice to hear that Lin Dan came out to watch me so I must come out to watch him in his game also.”
Hidayat, 30, could not have wished for a better or easier start; even having the luxury of glancing at neighbouring matches as he cruised to two 21-8 games against Koukal.
“It is hard to judge my level from that game and, with all respect to Petr, it was pretty easy. I felt good and it is nice to get into the hall and get the competition underway. I will relax tonight and prepare mentally for my game against Pablo Abian on Tuesday.”
In one of the most eagerly awaited matches of the Men’s Singles first round, Kevin Cordon of Guatemala outstayed and outplayed European silver medallist Henri Hurskainen of Sweden in the third and decisive game to set up a mouth-watering tie against home hero Rajiv Ouseph on Tuesday.