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Let’s not take Olympic badminton gold for granted

by August 29, 2016 General

Winning is an attitude — a mentality that is developed either by nature or nurture.

That was what Indonesian badminton hero Tontowi Ahmad and heroine Liliyana Natsir displayed in the recent Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They are a perfect example of athletes who nurture a winning mentality that enables them to restore national pride by winning a gold medal in the mixed doubles event.

The duo let go of their “me” mindset for a “we” attitude by overcoming poor communication and rebuilding trust between them. All toward one aim: winning the gold medal for the country.

The Rio gold amended the pair’s unfortunate defeat in the 2012 London Games, which was for Indonesia a bitter moment as the whole team returned home without a gold medal. Since 1992 Indonesia had won at least one gold medal from badminton in every Olympics.

Down and out in 2012, Tontowi and Liliyana made a sweet rebound four years later, allowing their proud compatriots to feel goose bumps again as the Red-and-White flag was hoisted and the “Indonesia Raya” anthem was played during the medal presentation.

Indonesia returned home with one gold from badminton and two silvers from weightlifting to finish 46th in the medals tally. Among Southeast Asian nations, Indonesia is second behind Thailand (two golds) and above Vietnam (one gold, one silver), Singapore (one gold) and Malaysia (four silvers, one bronze).

Upon arrival in Jakarta, Tontowi and Liliyana, along with silver medalists Sri Wahyuni Agustiani and Eko Yuli Irawan, received a hero’s welcome and were showered with praise and bonuses. Yes, Indonesia, many thanks to the golden badminton pair, finished better in this year’s summer Olympics than the 2012 ranking of 63rd.

But the party is now over.

Tontowi and Liliyana have played their part in this happy ending through hard work and determination in nurturing their winning mentality. But we must not take their achievement for granted.

It is time now for other members of the national badminton team, especially the younger generation, to wake up and smell the coffee and do the hard deals. They have four years before the 2020 Tokyo Games to develop their technical skills and follow in the footsteps of Tontowi and Liliyana.

All of this can be shaped by participating in numerous individual international competitions as well as regional multi-sport events such as the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur and 2018 Asian Games at home. These two regional events will serve as ideal stepping stones toward the Tokyo Olympics.

Taking advantage as hosts in the 2018 Asian Games, Indonesian badminton players should push themselves to win more golds as this will give a boost to their morale ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) chief Gita Wirjawan retains his faith that the country is looking at three future stars in the men’s singles with a potential to win medals in Tokyo. They are Ihsan Maulana Mustofa, Jonatan Christie and Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, respectively junior world No. 17, 22 and 30.

The three displayed maturity beyond their ages when helping Indonesia triumph in the 2016 Asia Championships men’s team competition and the 2015 SEA Games men’s team event.

In fact, doubles events have become the dependable sector for the Indonesian badminton team in winning Olympic medals ever since the historic 1992 Barcelona Games.

Indonesia, however, may not be able to pin too much hope of taking over the baton from Tontowi and Liliyana on the country’s second-best mixed doubles team of Praveen Jordan and Debby Susanto, who lost in the quarterfinals in Rio. Debby, 27, has bid farewell to the Olympics.

This makes it even trickier as the ranking gap between Praveen/Debby and the younger teams is quite big. Ronald Alexander and Melati Daeva Oktavianti are currently number 19, while, Riky Widianto and Richi Puspita Dili are 28th. Both pairs, however, are still under the radar.

In the women’s doubles, the most famous pair is fourth-ranked Nitya Krishinda Maheswari and Greysia Polii, who finished the group stage but crashed out in the quarterfinals in Rio. But Nitya will be 31 and Greysia 33 when the Tokyo Olympics take place. They have done quite well so far, but may not be fit for such a competitive event as the Olympics.

Climbing up the ranking ladder behind Nitya/Greysia are No. 19 Anggia Shitta Awanda and Ni Ketut Mahadewi Istirani, as well as No. 20 Della Destiara Haris and Rosyita Eka Putri Sari.

In the men’s doubles, the PBSI reckons on Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo at No. 11 and Angga Pratama and Ricky Karanda Suwardi at No. 13. The two pairs hint at a promising future. They are in the PBSI’s grooming program to layer fifth-ranked Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan, who performed poorly in Rio.

Sadly, the women’s singles is still a big challenge for Indonesian badminton to deal with. With Maria Febe Kusumastuti as the only shuttler in the top 30 list, the PBSI needs to go the extra mile and scout for talent, hopefully under the legendary Susi Susanti.

Anything can happen in the coming four years, but nothing is going to dim the Indonesian badminton players’ love of donning the national colors and winning in the Olympics.