Olympic gold medallist and two-time world champion Tontowi Ahmad’s decision to call time on his international career brought the curtains down on an eventful career.
Ahmad’s retirement comes a year after that of his partner Liliyana Natsir with whom he won all his major accolades, including the Rio 2016 gold, world titles in 2013 and 2017, and three straight All England crowns.
The ‘Owi-Butet’ combination was a striking one; Natsir had already established herself as one of the premier mixed doubles players during her time with Nova Widianto; Ahmad was able to bring his own unique skills to complement her. However, while Natsir was noted for her solidity, Ahmad was more of a maverick – able to achieve stratospheric heights, but at times prone to error.
These characteristics were most in evidence during the World Championships of 2013 and 2015. At the World Championships 2013 in Guangzhou, it was Ahmad’s initiative at the death – when the Indonesians were two match points down in the final – that saw them through to victory; a couple of years later in Jakarta, Ahmad and Natsir were flying high against Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei in the semifinals, before a couple of errors from Ahmad turned into stunning meltdown for the local heroes.
That loss hurt both Ahmad and Natsir deeply, but they made amends a year later in Rio. Having arrived at the Olympics short of form, they were able to hit the high notes most spectacularly against reigning champions Zhang/Zhao, whom they decimated in straight games. A similar performance followed in the final, and they made history by becoming the first mixed doubles pair from Indonesia to win Olympic gold.
They followed up with another world title the next year in Glasgow, which was Natsir’s fourth and Ahmad’s second.
Susi Susanti, PBSI’s Head of Development and High Performance, hailed Ahmad’s contributions to Indonesian badminton.
“Tontowi was one of the best athletes in mixed doubles. His dedication, discipline and commitment were extraordinary. That made him able to win many titles and enter the ranks of the world’s elite,” said Susanti, in a statement released by PBSI.
Richard Mainaky, Indonesia’s mixed doubles coach who was responsible for setting up their combination, recalled the work that Ahmad had to do to become one of the best of his time.
“Nova (Widianto), who was Liliyana’s partner, decided to retire and I had to find a young player to be paired with Butet. The choices at that time were Owi, Muhammad Rijal and Devin Lahardi. I tried all three to pair with Butet and indeed the results were all good. But my feeling is that Owi was the best fit for Butet, and Butet herself was also most comfortable with Owi. I am also grateful PBSI at that time believed in the decision I made.
“Owi and my collaboration became easier because Owi was obedient, he wanted to do what was recommended by the coach. We knew he had shortcomings in footwork, and he trained for that. He could become a player whose technique was above average. He is also a smart player, if he smashes he can target his opponent, he smashes at the right time,” said Mainaky.
PBSI Secretary General Achmad Budiharto thanked Ahmad for making Indonesia proud.
“Tontowi is a hard worker, diligent, never knows fatigue, especially when he is challenged. I think this can be an example for young athletes; his hard work and discipline are exemplary,” said Budiharto.