A Badminton Champion Without Peer, Especially at Home

MADRID — As a baby, Carolina Marín was drawn to badminton due to its oddness, an attraction that grew as soon as she switched from plastic shuttlecocks to those used for competitors, every manufactured from 16 feathers plucked from the left wings of geese.

“In tennis, a ball is a ball, but trying to control these feathers just felt really weird,” she stated.

Now Marín, 25, is one thing of an oddity herself.

In August, she turned the primary lady to win three world singles championships. At the 2016 Olympic Games, she turned the primary European lady to win a gold medal in badminton, ending the longstanding domination of Asian gamers. The feat was all of the extra outstanding as a result of Spain had no monitor report in badminton: Before Marín, just one Spanish participant had ever received a match at the Olympics.

“Playing badminton, I’ve always known what I wanted to do and I’ve been willing to train very hard for it, even when it’s got physically painful,” Marín stated. “Those who watch me train say that I’m a bit ‘bruta,’” she added, utilizing a Spanish phrase for tough.

“I think the fact that more people now recognize me when I’m crossing the street in Jakarta and other places in Asia than in my own country shows in itself just how much effort I’ve had to make to get to where I am,” she stated.

Marín has risen by the world rankings with the assistance of a Spanish nationwide coach, Fernando Rivas, who noticed her expertise at a event when she was 13. Rivas persuaded Marín’s mother and father to let her go away the household house in Huelva, in southern Spain, to practice with him at Madrid’s nationwide sports activities middle.

There, Marín’s talent and single-mindedness, and Rivas’s teaching, helped her turn into the world’s finest participant.

Rivas stated that Marín stood out as an adolescent not solely due to her distinctive pace, but additionally due to her potential to alter tempo and “read the game” in a means few younger gamers can. Badminton, he stated, calls for explosive actions but additionally depends closely on deception, akin to the best way a volleyball participant jumps and pretends to prepared a violent smash — solely to alter course or gently loop the ball over the online.

During a morning coaching session in October, Marín moved backwards and forwards relentlessly between the online and the again line of the courtroom in a single drill, returning the photographs of her apply companions, who alternated drop photographs and lobs. At different occasions, she is the one altering the tempo.

“I’m a quick and aggressive player who’s always looking to keep the opponent under pressure,” she stated. “If you compare tennis and badminton, we play on a smaller court, with a shuttlecock that crosses the net faster than a ball, so that makes our sport much more explosive — and that suits me just fine.”

Marín received her first world championship title in 2014, overcoming a stress fracture in her foot that had left her, every week earlier than the competitors, questioning if she could be match sufficient to play at all.

She has made peace with the federation, too, even if she remains critical of the sport’s administrators in Spain, and particularly their failure to promote badminton more extensively in light of her success. The number of licensed players in Spain last year had climbed to only about 7,800, from 6,000 a decade earlier.

“Badminton could be a lot more popular, but I really don’t know what all the people in the federation are doing — or if they’re doing the work that should be done,” Marín said. The federation, she said, remains “disconnected” from the players, to the point that officials still do not watch her and other top players train in Madrid.

But dismal participation numbers might have worked in Marín’s favor at the start of her career, because she could stand out faster than athletes growing up in countries with more established national programs, coaching methods and hierarchies.

Anders Thomsen, who has worked with Rivas as a coach for Marín since 2008, said she was “probably lucky there wasn’t a real structure for badminton in Spain” at the beginning of her career. Thomsen played and then coached in his native Denmark, one of the few European countries where badminton is among the most popular sports. In his home city, Viborg, Thomsen said, there are seven badminton clubs that nurture players at least until they turn 18, after which the best move on to train under the supervision of the national federation.

“Carolina found herself at 14 getting all the possible attention within a national center,” Thomsen said, “because there really was nobody better than her in Spain.”

These days, Marín’s unmatched skill means that she practices against nationally ranked male players, rather than the two other female players at Madrid’s national center.

“If I was training with the other girls, the quality of the training would fall a lot because they can’t cope with my pace,” Marín said. “Of course I would love to have the opportunity that others have in Asia, to have several other girls of a high level with whom to train. We’ve spoken for a while with the federation about bringing some foreign players over, but it’s not that easy to do.”

One of her sparring partners, Alvaro Vázquez, described Marín as an inspiration, while acknowledging a similar frustration that her success had not translated into a broader appreciation in Spain of the complexity of badminton.

“I think most people in Spain still think of badminton as something that you play for fun on the beach,” he said, “when in fact, you can’t really play on the beach because of the wind.”

Rivas, who continues to oversee the national team, is not optimistic that he or the federation will find another Spaniard capable of following in Marín’s footsteps, at least not in the way Spain has produced an armada of highly ranked tennis players, led for more than a decade by Rafael Nadal.

“I don’t think that Spain will find another Carolina in 1,000 years,” Rivas said. “My main job is not to find another star, but maintain the one that we have.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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