Lilyana and Tantowi living the dream
To get to the top of the tree in your chosen sport takes years and years of hard work, but some have had to overcome more hurdles than others.
Lilyana Natsir is one half of Indonesia’s greatest medal hope in London. She left school at the age of 12 to follow her dream. She battled through provincial tournaments in Sulawesi right through to the national level.
After struggling in the women’s doubles, Lilyana finally found her niche in mixed doubles, when she partnered with Nova Widianto to win the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
“I am under great pressure to meet high expectations at the 2012 Olympics. I don’t want to waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in the Games,” Lilyana told ESPN.
Since Beijing, Lilyana’s partner has retired and in 2010 was replaced by the much younger but just as talented Tantowi Ahmad.
“I remember feeling nervous but happy at the same time when I found out that I was going to be paired with Lilyana. She also gave me some advice about life because she is older and has more experience than me,” said Tantowi.
There is only two years difference between the two. Lilyana is 26 years old but is acutely aware that London 2012 could be her last Olympics.
“Time is precious and we won’t get this chance twice. I want to concentrate on securing as many points as possible in the All England Championship and the Swiss Open, and get in gear for the Olympics,” says Lilyana some time ago.
And optimize they did. In remarkable form, the world No. 4 pair beat Denmark’s Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter Juhl to win the All England. A week later they triumphed at the Swiss Open. Their coach, Richard Mainaky, believes that this new Indonesian pairing can go all the way in London.
“I have full confidence in their ability to win the gold medal. Tantowi is hard working and tenacious. He also has the charisma and the right qualities to become a true champion. Lilyana is a highly disciplined athlete and she hates to lose. She will do anything to achieve her goals.”
Lilyana and Tantowi’s campaign will also be watched closely by two legends in the badminton world, 1992 Olympic gold medallists, husband and wife Alan Budikusuma and Susi Susanti.
“I must say Lilyana and Tantowi from the mixed doubles team are Indonesia’s ticket to winning gold in the Olympics. They should not waste this rare opportunity to win the gold because they might not get the same chance at the next Olympics,” said Susi.
The dominance of China has forced everyone else to raise their game, and Lilyana and Tantowi spend months at a time in dormitories next to their training facility, with all the comforts of home in a single room. It’s been this way for Lilyana for more than a decade but her enthusiasm is undimmed.
For Tantowi, it felt like a job right from the start. “As a kid, there were times that I would rather go out and fly my kite than stay home to train. I find it amusing now because my father used to bribe me with money to pique my interest in the sport. His tactic was to get me to play against him. If I won, I got to keep the cash.”
“I always cited my parents as my main source of inspiration. My father has this dream that I will become a champion in the Olympics and in the world. I cannot afford to let my parents down.”
On the court it’s all about maximizing Tantowi’s speed and Lilyana’s guile and synchronizing their movements. Tantowi takes charge of attacking opponents from the back court while Lilyana’s strength is in closing the deal fast at the front. Lilyana also knows how to read the game.
And the evidence of that is in all the silverware she’s won — 22 super series crowns, four SEA Games golds, two world championships and that silver medal in Beijing. The pressure now is on Tantowi.
“Tantowi has a lot of guts and he can motivate himself well. We have achieved so much over this short period of time. But in my opinion, he’s not in his best form yet, because at times he can still be easily distracted. Especially when he is going through a personal problem,” said Lilyana.
As a partnership, this pair is visibly maturing and with Coach Mainaky on their side, a medal could very well be on the menu.
Living the Dream screens on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.
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