Chou Tien Chen might not be one of the frequently-discussed medal prospects at the Olympics, but the Chinese Taipei hope will go to Rio in the best possible frame of mind after achieving a childhood dream.
For long, standing atop the podium at the Yonex Open Chinese Taipei had fired Chou’s imagination as an upcoming youngster, and when the moment finally arrived earlier this month, there were no extravagant histrionics; only a head buried in his hands as he soaked in the achievement. That victory though wasn’t only about achieving a long-cherished home title: it also garnered vital ranking points that propelled him to No.6 in the Olympic seedings, besides giving him a shot of confidence ahead of the all-important Games.
“It was one of my lifetime goals to win this tournament,” Chou said. “Several years ago, I saw players win here and that became my goal. This win is important for my Olympic preparations. I just have to keep practising and improving my skills. I believe the road will get tougher.”
While Chou’s talent has never been in doubt, his consistency during key phases of important matches, and his ability to string together victories over the course of a week, have been found wanting.
His season this year points to the vagaries of his form. After making the final of the Yonex German Open in March, he crashed out in the first round of the Yonex All England the following week. A quarter-final at the Swiss Open was followed by early exits in India, Malaysia and Singapore.
“I think there is room for improvement in my performance,” Chou admits. “I haven’t been in top form for a while, but I thought I played quite well earlier this year. I need to work on my consistency, so I still need to put in a lot of effort in my training. During the German Open at the start of the year for example, most of my matches ended in rubber sets, so I did feel the fatigue when I eventually reached the final. I need to try my best to finish matches in two games so I can conserve energy for subsequent rounds.”
Chou salvaged his season just before the Olympics, surging to a win at home, beating players like Boonsak Ponsana (Thailand), Wong Wing Ki (Hong Kong), Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin (Malaysia) and Qiao Bin (China) on the way.
“In the past, I used to feel a lot of pressure, but as I lost more matches, I began to take things easy,” says Chou, of his new attitude on court. “I take things in my stride now and realise that the most important thing is to handle every match well.”
Chou might well benefit from the lack of excessive attention on him, with the focus in Men’s Singles being on stars like Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and China’s Lin Dan and Chen Long. Rio being his first Olympics, Chou cannot contain his excitement.
“I am very excited, because I finally get to perform on my dream stage. I hope to achieve a good result at my debut at the Olympics so I will work hard towards my target and play hard to realise my childhood dream.”
If he plays to his strengths, Chou could upset some of the more heralded names and see himself in line for Olympic glory.
“The Olympic badminton venue is rather small, I think the shuttles may be fast. I need to get used to faster plays and think of tactics to counter fast exchanges. I’ve been working on this lately.
“I hope to win a medal. No Chinese Taipei badminton player has won an Olympic medal. I’m not hoping to break any record, I’m just hoping to win a medal for my nation.”