Life

Susi Susanti: Finest female
badminton player

SUSI SUSANTI: (JP)
SUSI SUSANTI: (JP)

Most of us who watched Susi Susanti receive Indonesia's first gold medal at the Barcelona Summer Olympics in 1992 will remember seeing tears streaming down her face while the Indonesian national anthem played.

In that historic moment, Indonesians across the nation were united in feelings of immense pride and joy as they shared her sweet victory.

Looking back, Susi admitted that many sacrifices had to be made to achieve success.

After secondary school, she had to leave her family in Tasikmalaya, West Java, where she was born, to live at a dormitory and enroll at a school that was only for athletes.

She said she was socially awkward because she only had athletes as friends. It is no wonder she chose to marry Alan Budikusuma, also an Olympic gold medalist at Barcelona and fellow badminton player.

As an athlete, her training schedule was extremely packed. She would train for six days in a week, from Monday to Saturday, from 7 to 11 in the morning and from 3 in the afternoon until 7 in the evening.

She also had to follow strict rules on what she ate, when she slept and what was wore.

She was not allowed to wear high-heeled shoes to avoid ankle injuries. Visiting malls and going to the movies could only be done on Sundays. However, she was often so tired that she opted to rest on Sundays rather than to go out.

In order to be a world champion, Susi fully understood she had to focus on her training and give up many things that non-athletes could enjoy.

"It is impossible to be a badminton world champion if you do not put your heart and mind in your goal. I even gave up my tertiary education because I could not concentrate on my game while studying for exams," she recalled.

"But I have no regrets. How else could I contribute to my country while achieving my dream at the same time?"

While Susi's gold medal at the Barcelona Summer Olympics is considered to be the pinnacle of her contribution to Indonesia, Susi lifted up the country's name numerous times throughout her glittering career as Indonesia's greatest female badminton player.

She dominated the women's singles event in the early to mid 1990s, winning the All-England in 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1994, the World Badminton Grand Prix consecutively from 1990 to 1994 and the International Badminton Federation World Championship in 1993.

She won the Japan Open three times as well as the Grand Prix Series in Bali in 1990. She also won various Badminton Grand Prix Series and Badminton World Cups.

She led the Indonesian team to triumph at the Uber Cup in 1994 and 1996. Other than her gold medal at Barcelona, she also won a bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the United States.

Susi was inducted into the International Badminton Federation (IBF, currently Badminton World Federation or BWF) Hall of Fame in May 2004 and received the Herbert Scheele Trophy from the IBF Council in 2002 for outstanding exceptional services to badminton.

Until 1997, Susi continued to win badminton championships for Indonesia, the final one being the Badminton World Cup in 1997.

In 1998, she led the Indonesian female badminton team to second place during the Uber Cup competition in Hong Kong. It took a decade for the Indonesian team to reach the final of the Uber Cup again, the achievement finally coming in 2008, under the guidance of Susi as team manager.

Her achievements have also led to her inclusion in the forthcoming four-volume Dictionary of Overseas Chinese Personalities, to be published by The Chinese Heritage Centre at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Susi recalled that the May 1998 riots broke out when she was in Hong Kong for the Uber Cup final.

Being a Chinese-Indonesian, she feared for her family and friends back in Indonesia. Thankfully, her family and friends escaped the wrath of the mob during the riots.

The international community's condemnation of the May riots was intensely felt by Susi, who was interviewed by CNN regarding her position as a Chinese-Indonesian badminton world champion.

During the interview, Susi said candidly she was deeply concerned about the situation back home because she realized news reports of the riots were much more vivid in Hong Kong than in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, she maintained that she was an Indonesian first and foremost, and would not hesitate to keep representing Indonesia in international badminton championships.

Her pregnancy, however, caused Susi to willingly leave the world of badminton in 1998.

Following the birth of her daughter, Laurencia Averina, she dedicated herself to being a full-time mother. Two years later, she was blessed with the arrival of a second child, Albertus Edward. Her third child, Sebastianus Frederick, was born in 2003.

Even though she and her husband had stellar careers as badminton players, Susi does not want her children to follow in their footsteps. She feels that athletes are under appreciated in this country.

Unlike Korea and China, which have comprehensive pension plans for ex-athletes and offer a host of benefits and incentives for star athletes, Indonesia does not offer its athletes a bright future.

She feels this is one of the reasons for the declining quality of badminton players in Indonesia.

With the exception of several corporate sponsors, including Djarum and Ciputra, Indonesian badminton players and federations receive little financial support for their efforts and achievements.

She shares how she and Alan had to pool their own resources to establish a sports equipment corporation, Astec (Alan and Susi Technology), to support their family. They have also opened a foot reflexology and sports physiotherapy center, Fontana, in Kelapa Gading.

Based on her own experiences and observations, Susi wants her children to concentrate on their education.

Badminton, she says, "can come after they have completed their education. Education provides more tangible benefits than the uncertain future facing badminton athletes".

In spite of everything, she retains the hope that Indonesia's government will learn to value its badminton players and help restore the nation's supremacy in the sport.

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