Michelle Li – Playing with Pain on Road to Tokyo

Canada’s surge to the top of Group 2 at the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 owed in large measure to their women’s singles icon Michelle Li’s unflappable performance through the tournament.

Li, despite nursing an achilles tendon tear in her right leg, gutsed it out against Singapore’s Yeo Jia Min and Germany’s Yvonne Li in the group matches before easing past France’s Yaelle Hoyaux to help her team grab the honours in Group 2.

Following the Sudirman Cup, Li’s form continued to hold, and at the Australian Open last week she overcame difficult opponents in Indonesia’s Gregoria Mariska Tunjung and Japan’s Aya Ohori, before going down to eventual champion Chen Yufei in the quarterfinals.

Michelle Li has decided against surgery in the run-up to Tokyo 2020.

With the qualification period for Tokyo 2020 having started, Li doesn’t want to take time off for surgery and rehab.

“I’ve been injured for almost a year now, I slipped and kind of sprained my ankle a little bit. But that led to an achilles tendon tear,” said Li, during the Sudirman Cup. “I’ve seen doctors and specialists and they all say that if I take surgery I need to take four months off and… I don’t have time to do that. They said that it’s not too dangerous but the pain is going to be there. Right now it’s just about learning to play with the pain. It will be hard because I have to balance training and try to not get it too swollen and inflamed. But I think it’s about trying to keep the pain level down so I can still push and maintain my speed during the matches.”

The Sudirman Cup was Li’s first event that would count towards Tokyo 2020. She has a busy season ahead, crisscrossing continents in June and July – from Australia to Canada and the US, on to Asia, before flying to Peru for the Pan Am Games.

Li played with injury in Rio as well – she underwent surgery after the Olympics.

“Starting summer it’s just a string of tournaments, almost back to back. (In) July I think there is Canada, US, Indonesia, Japan and then we have the Pan-Am Games. So it’s just going to be constant travelling, constant competing, constant training for the next year right up until next May. It’s going to be very, very exciting.”

What is motivating her is the opportunity to play her third Olympics, after London 2012 and Rio 2016.

“I’ve dedicated my whole life to badminton and every athlete’s dream is to go to the Olympics. I’ve already been to two and I think the Olympics has kind of been in my life for so long,” says Li.

“If I can get a medal it would mean a lot to me. It would just represent all the hard work that I’ve put into badminton, like it’s paid off. So it means a lot but at the same time just being at the Olympics is just an experience that one will never forget.

Michelle Li and Alex Bruce featured in the bronze medal playoff at London 2012.

“A world title and an Olympic medal is just as special because it’s a representation of everything that you’ve worked for. But the Olympics is something that happens every four years so to me it’s a little bit more special.

“I played in the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. 2012 was my very first Olympics, so it was definitely very exciting, everything was very new and I didn’t know what to expect. I qualified for singles and doubles. In singles I was in a pool with Wang Yihan. She became the silver medalist at that time. In doubles because of all the disqualifications I had the chance to participate in the quarterfinals and then ended up playing the semifinals. The experience there was unbelievable and to be able to go through all of that, I think that was one of the most memorable moments for me. Then in 2016, I made it for singles and I lost to Sindhu who also became the silver medalist.

“Coming up Tokyo 2020 I hope that I can medal this time. I’m going to do my best, put everything out there and it will probably be just as memorable as an experience for me.”