Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Badminton: The narrow line that separates them

AS I sat comfortably in the upper tier in the middle section to watch the first two days' proceedings with the gentle patter of polite applause wafting through the air at Wembley Arena, it feels like as if I am in a parallel universe, with the maelstrom of mindless violence, arson and looting elsewhere in London and in the UK.

The nearest hotspot of youthful thuggery was in Enfield and the only sign of potential trouble yesterday was when the shops closed early at 3pm and the local Curry's electronics outlet proactively boarded up its front entrance. I found it quite amusing to read of Beijing's castigation of London's authorities, casting aspersions towards security for next year's Olympics.

Perhaps Beijing would like to offer its expertise and experience in dealing with the masses at such a supreme sports event?

Lee Chong Wei has always been in top shape in terms of his conditioning, thanks to the dedicated work of ISN's Roesdi Ghani, who has been taking care of his conditioning work even before Li Mao started coaching him.

What makes a difference this year is that Chong Wei is finally injury-free after such a long time with a run of three injuries in succession that took an inordinately long-time to clear up, with such a busy schedule affording inadequate time for complete recovery.

Credit must go to BAM for complying with our request to curtail the number of matches in his competition schedule since last year.

As luck would have it for Chong Wei, China's fifth-seeded Chen Long was defeated by Kevin Cordon, a total unknown from Guatemala. As an expected opponent in the quarter-finals, a tough encounter with Chen Long was on the cards.

Taufik Hidayat had also just suffered a defeat at the hands of Singaporean Derek Wong, and so did Marc Zwiebler of Germany against Spaniard Pablo Abian.

What this underscores, though, is how narrow the line is that separates the top players from the rest; a line that grows even thinner if one is troubled by an injury that, whilst not severe enough to exclude one's participation, it would still wreak havoc on one's well-laid plans.

An athlete simply needs to be in top shape, injury-free, stable of mind and spirit; all of these are not mutually exclusive, with each one having an influence on the others. Imagine how supremely confident an athlete would feel - with finely-honed physical condition, with no injuries to cause any anxiety, no personal problems or busy social schedule that would be unwelcome distraction.

As one cannot really be too forthcoming about an injury niggle for obvious reasons, outwardly when a defeat comes the picture is one of "mental weakness".

It's never as simple as that. Many armchair critics would be quick to make such a diagnosis, not really aware of a whole-host of factors that contribute to defeat, which also includes not understanding and playing to one's strengths.

The one-week training stint at the University of Bath in Somerset, UK was planned to bring out the best of the players involved, with none of the sort of distractions that may hamper preparations. It is not merely an exercise in environmental acclimatisation.

The main reasons are several folds; firstly to address the seven-hour time difference that requires being in the UK one day for each hour of time difference.

Thus being at the Sports Training Village (STV) at Bath University affords a physical and physiological opportunity to get properly settled in and sorted out. Time and again, athletes would fly in just days before such a big event and suffer an unexpected defeat in the early rounds.

Other countries from far-off shores are doing the same; we'd heard that four Indonesian players were preparing in Belfast for a similar duration and the Singaporean players were training with their English counterparts in Milton Keynes.

The STV's superb training halls and conditioning centre provide continuity in the conditioning work, which necessarily tails down but there's still some quality work to be done.

The pre-competition phase would see our players having a longer duration to work on maintaining their fine skills and work on technical concerns with two sessions a day lasting two to three hours each.

This gives our coaches ample time to glean the sort of stability and accuracy, and forge tactics and strategies, especially using the video technology that ISN provides.

Previously, moving to the competition site straight away doesn't afford too much time to do this and court time would be very limited, especially at the competition venue.

Being far away from the hurly-burly would also give athletes a sense of peace and stability and freedom from so many distractions.

Last year, our top men's pair of Koo and Tan benefited and went all the way to the final and this year, Chong Wei, who had missed the stint last year, voiced his delight with the place and seeks to spend a longer period ahead of the Olympics next year.

This concept of a forward training base will not only benefit our athletes ahead of the London Olympics 2012 and Scotland Commonwealth Games in 2014 but can also be a cost-effective way for athletes, especially our young up and coming ones. They can be exposed overseas for a longer period, as very often they spend a couple of weeks and often end up feeling like sports tourists.

It takes at least four to five weeks for a place to feel like home and they can periodically take advantage of cheap rail travel within that period to play against challenging opponents in Europe.

In the process, they will master travelling skills, develop self-dependence and confidence. "Jaguh Kampung" no more...

Read more: NST

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