Willy Wilson, WEEKENDER | Tue, 05/29/2012 3:02 PM |
Badminton legend Susy Susanti reflects on her historic Olympic gold medal victory 20 years on.
Many Indonesians still get goose bumps when they remember Susy Susanti’s come-from-behind victory over Bang Soo-Hyun in the 1992 Summer Olympics women’s singles final.
When Susy stepped onto the podium in Barcelona on that August day, she brought home Indonesia’s first ever gold medal and made her way into the nation’s hearts.
Susy and her then fiancé Alan Budikusuma, who won the men’s singles gold, became national heroes overnight. Thousands gathered at Merdeka Square to welcome the couple home.
“It was a defining moment in my life. I’m not one to show emotion while on court, but the moment I won that final match I screamed and burst into tears,” said Susy, 41.
Badminton was making its Olympic debut, and Susy was one of the favorites for the women’s title. In the preceding two years, the former world junior champion had triumphed at the All England and World Badminton Grand Prix.
Her arch-nemeses during the golden years of her career in the 1990s were China’s Tang Jiuhong, who lost to Bang in the semifinals in Barcelona, South Korea’s Bang, whom Susy defeated at the Olympics after losing the first game, and Ye Zhaoying, also of China. Susy describes the latter as a more intimidating competitor than Bang. At 1.75 meters tall, Ye towered over Susy’s 1.63-meter frame. Yet despite her relatively small stature, Susy had the sturdy legs of a runner and the flexibility of a ballerina, shown in her signature splits to scoop up drop shots.
“It was a complicated triangle between us,” she says of the three athletes. “For me, Ye was a tougher competitor than Bang. For Ye, Bang was a big threat and I was the easy one. While Bang dreaded me but considered Ye an equal match,” she adds with a chuckle.
What Susy lacked in raw strength and power she made up for in her focus on winning.
“For me, a badminton match was both a physical and mental game. I would always stare at my opponent with a piercing look before the match began,” she says. “I would also make an effort to disguise my exhaustion during the match to intimidate my opponent – there were times when I wouldn’t take a drink during a match.”
In person, sitting in the living room of her home in North Jakarta, Susy is a soft-spoken woman with a pleasant personality and warm smile. The combination of a disarming woman with apparent innate humility contradicts the image of a win-at-all-costs athlete.
“I don’t know if I’m competitive, but I’m definitely a determined person. I remember even as a child I wouldn’t stop practicing a badminton technique with my father until I got it right. I would make him watch me practice.”
This determination rendered her a singular presence as an athlete. But what went through her head during a big match like the Olympics and All England finals?
“I thought about winning the game, but I never let the pressure to win distract my focus. When it came to big matches, it’s just me and my opponent. I certainly didn’t bother to think that millions of eyes were on me.”
Susy’s ability to focus came in handy later in life, when she decided to leave badminton behind in 1998 for the business world. Born into a middle-class Chinese-Indonesian family in Tasikmalaya, West Java, Susy knew she would have to turn to business to support her family.
“The sports industry doesn’t offer a lasting career. Alan and I were lucky because we were guided by remarkably successful people like Pak Try Sutrisno and Pak Ciputra at the peak of our careers. They taught us about investment and money management,” she says of the former vice-president and the famous tycoon.
It has been reported that Susy and Alan each received more than US$500,000 from sponsors and government sources for their Barcelona victories, but she insists that amount is an exaggeration. Using the money they earned as athletes, the couple launched a sports equipment brand named Astec. Susy also founded several foot massage parlors with fellow badminton veteran Elizabeth Latief.
For Susy, the most worthwhile investment thus far is her two-story family house in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, which she bought upon winning the title at the Barcelona Olympics. The family house, she says, marked the beginning of a new journey in her life as a married woman.
“It is crucial for an athlete to invest wisely, as most of us don’t have a higher education to fall back on,” she points out.
Susy left Tasikmalaya for Jakarta upon completing secondary school to study at the Ragunan sports academy.
“I would train for six days a week, from seven to eleven in the morning and from three in the afternoon until seven in the evening. I also had to follow strict rules on my diet and sleeping hours,” she says.
“Although we learned pretty much everything other students in regular schools did, we were not entirely prepared for a university education. Our focus was mainly on sports. I personally felt that the opportunity to get an education is one of the biggest sacrifices I made to be a badminton champion.”
Perhaps that is why Susy does not compromise when it comes to her children’s education. She says she will not object to them pursuing careers as professional athletes, but insists education must come first.
Yet all three of her children – Laurencia Averina, Albertus Edward and Sebastianus Frederick –students of Gandhi Memorial International School aged between nine and 13, have shown an interest in badminton.
But do they know that their parents are badminton legends?
“I suppose they know that Alan and I are somewhat known to the public, as people often stop us to take photographs,” she says. “But I don’t think they understand the whole story, and I intend to keep it that way. For them, we are simply their parents.”