The smile hasn’t left Ygor Coelho de Oliveira’s face for many hours now – nor is it likely to disappear any time soon.
Still floating dreamily after being part of the Brazil contingent at the Opening Ceremony yesterday, Oliveira struggles to put his feeling into words: “It’s… it was such a fantastic feeling,” he says. “Just before we entered the arena, the crowd was going wild. To be there was just amazing, I still have goose bumps.”
Last night’s Opening Ceremony party’s over, though, and the serious on-court business has started, with teams going through practice sessions at the Riocentro Pavilion-4. Far from feeling any nerves at being the host nation’s centre of attention in badminton, Oliveira seemed to be itching for the action to start.
“I’m confident I can do well. I’m in Group K with Marc Zwiebler and Scott Evans… it’s still a dream. To think that I’m playing at the Olympics, and that too in Brazil… I’m feeling very good and I know I can do well. My family and friends will be here, of course, and they will be cheering for me. I hope that will inspire me to do better,” said Oliveira (featured image).
Oliveira is one of seven Men’s Singles players from Pan Am participating in South America’s first Olympics; the others being Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon, Canada’s Martin Giuffre, Cuba’s Osleni Guerrero, Mexico’s Lino Munoz, Suriname’s Soren Opti and USA’s Howard Shu.
For Munoz, who qualified last, being in Rio was validation for all the hard work he’d put in during the qualifying period.
“The year was very stressful, because I didn’t know if I was going to make it. When the first qualifying list came out and I wasn’t on it, I was disappointed, because I was so close. I needed one thing to happen, and then Oceania declined their spot. When I heard that, I and everyone in Mexican badminton were so thrilled.”
Like others who were part of the Opening Ceremony, Munoz struggled to put into words the feelings that had swept over him.
“When you’re walking through the stadium and the announcer says your country’s name… I can’t describe it. It’s one of the best things you can experience, not so much because of the cameras but what it represents, that you are one of the best players of your country, and in the world, being at the Olympics…
“For me it’s a dream come true to be here. It’s the first time a guy from Mexico has qualified, it’s a huge honour for me and my country, for Mexican badminton to be at the most prestigious event. I hope with this we can get more support, and more media, and for more players coming to the next Olympics with a more complete team.”
It will be the third Olympics for Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon, but Rio holds special significance as the left-hander had nearly given up on his career due to a serious knee injury three years ago.
“My qualifying period was tough. Three years ago I had a bad injury in my left knee. After my surgery, I couldn’t play any badminton, or any sport, as my knee was so damaged, I wasn’t able to walk. That was hard, because my ranking dropped to 400 or 500 …
“It was tough to motivate myself. I did a year of therapy. It was painful every day, some days I wanted to quit. I had a lot of negative thoughts, but I tried to be strong. Now I’m a happy man.”
The Guatemalan in in Group P with second seed Chen Long (China) – who he famously beat at the 2011 World Championships in London.
“I remember that when I saw the draw, I knew it would not be easy, but I told myself, if he wants to win, he has to run because I will fight every point. I did that and I won in three sets, it was one of my best wins in my life,” Cordon recalled.
“It’s a nice feeling to qualify since it’s not just about one year of preparation, it’s four years. I have a really tough draw, it’s not only Chen Long but two other guys (Poland’s Adrian Dziolko and Sri Lanka’s Niluka Karunaratne). You cannot have an easy draw in the Olympics. So I will do my best, let’s see what happens.”
Picture of Kevin Cordon, Hungary’s Laura Sarosi and Lino Munoz at the Opening Ceremony courtesy Lino Munoz’s Facebook page