The unlikeliest story of Tokyo 2020 played out on Thursday, with 34-year-old Guatemalan Kevin Cordon making the men’s singles quarterfinals at Tokyo 2020, his best-ever performance in his fourth Olympics.
The left-hander started strongly but looked to have run out of gas when he surrendered the second game to Mark Caljouw, who, at No.29, is ranked 30 places above Cordon. Yet, he quickly regrouped and kept apace with Caljouw, converting his third match point after the Dutchman had saved two. An emotional celebration followed.
“Well, here we are again. Happy again. When I qualified for the Olympics for the first time, it was a dream to play, to win one match. After that I was still dreaming to continue to win more matches. And now I’m happy I’ve won three matches. I just cannot believe it right now,” said Cordon.
“I’m just having fun. It’s an honour to play all these good players, who we only watch on the internet. And when you have a chance to play them it feels really nice.
The Guatemalan took time to reflect on his unusual journey. As a 13-year-old who’d left his small-town home to pursue badminton in the capital, Cordon has kept it going over four Olympic cycles. The passion has never waned in the face of several challenges, not the least of which is the resources required to travel for events.
“It’s not easy for us, because it’s not easy to get money to travel. I know there are more important things in Guatemala, like the poor people need to eat. It’s not like the game is everything. I came from a small town and badminton changed my life. What I’m doing in badminton is also helping my family, with the money I get from my federation. It helps support them.
“It is difficult to train. My friends help me. Most of my training is three versus one. I’ve been practising hard. After all these years I realised that if you compare Guatemala to other countries in Asia or Europe, the difference is huge. But we have one thing, that is to play with the heart.”
In the quarterfinals, Cordon takes on Korea’s Heo Kwang Hee, who upset top seed Kento Momota.
“I would like to take the next step. I would like to play only one point and be in the semifinals! But to be honest, I didn’t know who’s going to be my next opponent. Now I know it’s the Korean guy (Heo). Let’s see what happens. I hope I will be happier tomorrow than today!”