Might of Mind Over Matter – Road To Tokyo: Valeska Knoblauch

Valeska Knoblauch of Germany will be one to watch at the Japan Para Badminton International next week, as the badminton fraternity gathers in Tokyo for a tournament that serves as the test event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Knoblauch who was women’s singles world No.1 in the wheelchair (WH1) category until August 2019, dropped to second spot after a quarterfinal loss to China’s Yin Menglu at the TOTAL BWF Para Badminton World Championships 2019 in Basel, Switzerland.

“I should have been more calm and relaxed but I was too nervous and didn’t focus on my strengths nor on my game plan. I think I was just too tense,” she said about that match.

But it’s not Yin that she cites as a threat. “It’s Sarina Satomi.”

According to Knoblauch, Japan’s Satomi, the WH1 world champion is the toughest challenge in singles.

Valeska in action at the TOTAL BWF Para Badminton World Championships in Basel in August.

“She has had consistently good results in her latest tournaments and is rightly the world champion as she is already a very complete player regarding her abilities,” she explained.

However, Knoblauch is not without her strengths and accomplishments.

Although Knoblauch lost to Satomi in the finals of the Thailand Para Badminton International in September, she defeated her a week later at the China Para Badminton International and went on to win that tournament in the final against Yin Menglu.

In 2018, she defeated Karen Suter-Erath of Switzerland to be crowned European Champion. Since then, she’s risen through the ranks and has claimed her place among the top women wheelchair athletes. Knoblauch also plays women’s doubles with Elke Rongen and in the mixed doubles she partners Young-Chin Mi.

A rather huge feat for someone who never imagined she would one day be a world-class athlete.

“Becoming the world No.1 and now having the opportunity to play in the very first Paralympics is a very big deal to me. I doubt I would have ever experienced this if I had been a person without a disability,” said Knoblauch, who is currently second in the Race To Tokyo rankings.

Playing in the women’s doubles with Elke Rongen (right).

Knoblacuh was 14 when while at school she jumped up to sit on the classroom window sill with her friends. Not realising the window was open, she leaned back and fell out, landing on her spine.

“My spine broke and I was paraplegic,” she said.

Overcoming her disability with the support of her family and friends, Knoblauch bounced back into daily life. After several months in hospital and rehabilitation, she went back to school and when she was 18 she started playing badminton. She hasn’t looked back since.

“Before the accident, I loved to dance but dancing in a wheelchair was never an option for me. I tried basketball and table tennis in rehabilitation but it didn’t ‘catch me’ like badminton. Badminton I just liked from the beginning. It was also the people I started with who made me like it a lot. I like the challenge of controlling the wheelchair and the racket,” she explained.

Life is not all about badminton though. Knoblauch is a psychology student at the Universität zu Köln in Cologne, Germany and has ambitions to become a psychotherapist.

Encouraged by a psychologist who helped her overcome the fact that she would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life, she believes she too can help others in similar situations as her. Her studies have also helped her to become a better athlete.

Knoblauch with mixed doubles partner Young-Chin Mi (right).

“We don’t study sport psychology at university but I think I understand mental coaching differently than others because I have a more comprehensive understanding of cognitive processes,” she explained.

While Knoblauch’s chosen sport does require such precise mental skills, she claims her strength is her physical power, which puts her opponents under pressure.

Since the European Championships 2018, Knoblauch and her teammates have been training together under a national coach who also travels with the German Para badminton team to tournaments.

“The coach spots our weaknesses, then we work on that when we’re back in Germany. We also have more on and off-court training than before such as strength training and endurance. And the Olympic Training Centre in my hometown offers us physiotherapy, nutrition counselling and mental training.” All that she needs in preparing for Tokyo 2020.

Knoblauch’s physical and psychological might will be tested next week at the Japan Para Badminton International as she can expect to face local sweetheart Satomi, as well as Thailand’s Sujirat Phookham who has recently returned to the circuit after recovering from an injury.

Knoblauch, however, also looks forward to the atmosphere that extends beyond competition.

“We go to compete and win but we’re also friends. We look forward to meeting at each tournament, to catch up on each other’s lives because we’ve all known each other a long time. It’s very special atmosphere and I’m honoured to be a part of it. And it’s so much fun as well.”

Olympic and Paralympic News

Blazing A Trail to Tokyo 2020

Blazing A Trail to Tokyo 2020

12 November 2019
Excitement for Paralympic Games in Overdrive

Excitement for Paralympic Games in Overdrive

1 November 2019
Record-Breaking Demand for Paralympics Tickets

Record-Breaking Demand for Paralympics Tickets

21 October 2019
Suzuki, Mazur, Cheah Strike Twice – Thai Para-Badminton Int’l: Finals

Suzuki, Mazur, Cheah Strike Twice – Thai Para-Badminton Int’l: Finals

22 September 2019
Double Gold for Wetwithan – Thai Para-Badminton Int’l: Finals

Double Gold for Wetwithan – Thai Para-Badminton Int’l: Finals

21 September 2019
Chu Claims Champion Scalp – Thai Para-Badminton Int’l: Day 5

Chu Claims Champion Scalp – Thai Para-Badminton Int’l: Day 5

20 September 2019
Focused on Change  –  Road To Tokyo: Manasi Joshi

Focused on Change – Road To Tokyo: Manasi Joshi

19 September 2019
Para Stars Head to Thailand and China for Key Fortnight

Para Stars Head to Thailand and China for Key Fortnight

17 September 2019
Teenage Threat on Two Wheels – Road To Tokyo: Liu Yutong

Teenage Threat on Two Wheels – Road To Tokyo: Liu Yutong

15 September 2019
Historic Day for Peru and Guatemala – Parapan Am Games 2019

Historic Day for Peru and Guatemala – Parapan Am Games 2019

2 September 2019
Born Fighter – Road To Tokyo: Tim Haller

Born Fighter – Road To Tokyo: Tim Haller

6 August 2019
At the Height of His Career – Road To Tokyo: Lucas Mazur

At the Height of His Career – Road To Tokyo: Lucas Mazur

16 July 2019
Close Battle for Top Spot

Close Battle for Top Spot

7 July 2019
Badminton Saved My Life – Road To Tokyo: Chan Ho Yuen

Badminton Saved My Life – Road To Tokyo: Chan Ho Yuen

5 July 2019
In-Form Bhagat Charges Ahead

In-Form Bhagat Charges Ahead

4 July 2019
Coombs Breaks Drought – Irish Para-Badminton International

Coombs Breaks Drought – Irish Para-Badminton International

24 June 2019
Kim Jungjun Ramps Up Training With Tokyo in Mind

Kim Jungjun Ramps Up Training With Tokyo in Mind

12 June 2019
Oktila’s Sights Now On World Championships

Oktila’s Sights Now On World Championships

13 May 2019
Dong Seop, Oktila Claim Treble – Canada Para-Badminton International

Dong Seop, Oktila Claim Treble – Canada Para-Badminton International

13 May 2019
Agitos Workshop a Hit With Participants

Agitos Workshop a Hit With Participants

1 May 2019
Bello Determined to Make History

Bello Determined to Make History

1 May 2019
Sky’s the Limit for Para Badminton in Uganda

Sky’s the Limit for Para Badminton in Uganda

22 April 2019
Team Japan’s Road to the Paralympics, and Beyond

Team Japan’s Road to the Paralympics, and Beyond

12 April 2019
Super Mum – Road To Tokyo: Yuma Yamazaki

Super Mum – Road To Tokyo: Yuma Yamazaki

10 April 2019
Athlete Wellbeing and Tokyo 2020 Top Priority for Commission

Athlete Wellbeing and Tokyo 2020 Top Priority for Commission

9 April 2019
Asia Shares Out Wins – Dubai Para-Badminton Int’l

Asia Shares Out Wins – Dubai Para-Badminton Int’l

8 April 2019
Qu Zimo Wins Triple Crown – ENESCUP 2019

Qu Zimo Wins Triple Crown – ENESCUP 2019

1 April 2019
Turkey Kickstarts Paralympic Qualifying

Turkey Kickstarts Paralympic Qualifying

25 March 2019