An Olympic journey that started in ignominy transformed, in a feat of supreme alchemy over nine years, into a joyous afternoon for Greysia Polii, who along with Apriyani Rahayu, achieved what no Indonesian women’s doubles pair had done – win the Olympic gold.
Few players in Olympic history must have gone through such a dramatic reversal of fortunes. London 2012 was when Polii and Meiliana Jauhari were disqualified for not giving their best efforts on court. Nine years since then, and with her third Olympic partner Rahayu, Tokyo 2020 witnessed the Indonesian duo stand atop the podium. Could any scriptwriter have dreamt this up?
“Just run with me,” Polii had told her partner when they paired up four years ago. Polii, older, wiser from experience, nearing the end of her career, was asked to partner emerging hard-hitter Rahayu, to groom the youngster for the rigours ahead.
So what do you want? Polii had asked Rahayu. Do you want to be a champion? Whatever it takes, if I push your limits, we have to be ready to do anything together. Apriyani said yes, I’ll do anything, you can do anything to me.
“Apriyani really forced herself to make it here. Because I told her that I wasn’t young anymore. I wasn’t 20, so you really need to start running with me. No walking. Just run with me,” recalled Polii.
“And through every practice, through every challenge, every knockout, you have to keep running and you have to keep persevering with me, just for this gold medal. This is what we were aiming for all this time.”
And so, in a mostly empty hall at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, with a handful of Indonesian supporters egging them on, Polii and Rahayu ran. They were everywhere, jumping, smashing, charging, throwing themselves at every shuttle. Such was the passion and verve that they threw into the match that their opponents, Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan, wilted under the pressure.
And when the final shuttle went wide, those very legs that had powered them couldn’t hold steady any longer. Polii and Rahayu cried inconsolably on the podium and after. A category in which Indonesia had made little headway in the past had delivered them Olympic gold.
Indonesia’s long wait had come to an end.
“All I kept thinking was, how to keeping pushing with every challenge, how can I turn this around. And I forced myself to get this far, and to do the best I can,” said Rahayu.
“I’m speechless right now. Of course we are already here and got the gold medal, and this is how it feels, to get the gold medal. You cannot describe it,” said Polii.
“Twenty years ago, when I was 13, I knew Indonesia hadn’t any history in women’s doubles. I know I was born to be a badminton player. And I had that faith when I was just 13, that I wanted to make history for Indonesia in women’s doubles.
“Long story short, it takes commitment. To reach the dream, and to be patient, to be consistent under pressure to reach your goal, and this is where I am. Some of you know London Olympics brought me heartbreak, and some people said, don’t give up. They trusted me. So I kept going. And the breaks kept coming. And then Apriyani came up.
“I thank Apriyani for running with me, no matter what the adversity.”