Three years ago, a fresh-faced, samba-swaying young man from Brazil became badminton’s poster boy for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games – promoting the sport and engaging fans as much with his sunshine smile and personality as with his on-court bravado versus veterans like Marc Zwiebler and Scott Evans.
Ygor Coelho’s story was compelling: a bright spark who emerged from one of Brazil’s favelas, where his father coached badminton, to become among his country and continent’s best prospects in a sport not well entrenched in the region.
Now, three years on from South America’s first Olympics, Coelho’s stock has risen as he trains and competes in Europe – and who can forget him knocking India’s HS Prannoy out of last year’s World Championships to reach the men’s singles third round!
As players gear up for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we catch up with the 22-year-old who is determined to show he is the real deal!
It’s time for another Olympic qualification. How has your preparation gone?
It’s going well, I’ve been training since last year with Nadia Lyduch and I’m playing for Højbjerg Badminton Club and training at National Center 2 in Denmark. I think I am in good shape right now.
Outline your progress since the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
I trained for two years in France with Peter Gade, Jesper Hovgaard, Thibault Cambuzat and Junling Zhou as coaches. Since August last year, I have been practising with Michael Kjeldsen, Sven Sørensen, Qian Zhang and Nadia Lyduch in Denmark.
How much have you improved as a player? Can you give an example?
After the Olympics I wanted to be Top 50 in the world, but Zhou changed my way of thinking and made me dream of being in the Top 30. In 2018, I achieved this goal and I discovered I had talent but I didn’t know how to work to achieve more. Now Nadia is teaching me how to become even better.
Nadia and I are focused on the technical aspects of my game – footwork and more deceptive shots. I think Nadia a really smart coach and I trust in the process, and I’m really looking forward to the challenges this year. I want to get a medal at the Pan American Games in Lima.
Also, I have support from my national team in Brazil and I’m working on improving physically and regarding nutrition. Doctors and physical coaches are making a difference in my badminton.
You were the badminton poster boy for Rio 2016. What are your memories from that tournament as a player – and as a Brazilian?
Playing at home was amazing! Every single player in each sport wants to play in the Olympics but to do that at home is a special feeling. All my friends, family and teammates could see my dream coming true in Brazil.
How do you think badminton is seen in Brazil now, following Rio 2016?
I think a lot of new badminton clubs started in Brazil after the Olympics. Badminton is becoming more popular. It is always great to see more people in my country playing this amazing sport.
What are your goals for Tokyo 2020?
My goals for the Tokyo Olympics are, first of all, to qualify for the Olympics and then to try to get out of the group stage.