The Jakarta Post
Bangkok apparently was not a friendly place for Indonesia’s Thomas and Uber Cup teams. They had to swallow a bitter pill even before reaching the tournament’s finals.
Setting its sights on reaching the semifinals of the Uber Cup women’s team championship, the national shutters had to bow out to host Thailand 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Their male compatriots gave it their best shot in the semifinals, but lost to eventual champion China 3-1.
The results are disappointing as the Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI) had expected the shuttlers to bring back the Thomas Cup trophy, which the country last won in 2002. They reached the final in 2016, but Denmark foiled their bid to win the title for a new record 14 times.
No matter how they performed during the nerve-wracking week-long competition, public support and respect for the players remain.
However, a post-tournament evaluation is a must, particularly because Indonesia is pinning its hopes on the players to win gold medals in the Asian Games at home in August.
Team manager Susy Susanti, an Olympic champion and member of the 1994 and 1996 Uber Cup winning team, could not hide her disappointment. “Our [female] players performed their best, but the fact that Thai players rank better says it all,” she said.
For the Thomas Cup players, Susy acknowledged that the Chinese players had the upper hand. “We aimed to at least reach the finals, just like two years ago. However, we were only third-seeded and the outcome was the best we could do.”
Former Olympic medalist and Thomas Cup winning team member in 2000 and 2002 Taufik Hidayat showed his appreciation for the national teams. “They made an all-out effort. Of course we are disappointed, since we actually had a chance at winning,” he said.
Taufik blamed the PBSI for its failure to help the players set priorities in certain tournaments. In approaching a team event like the Thomas and Uber cups, he added, coaches should be able to guide their players to reach their peak performance at the right time.
He said the players lacked warm-up games to build team spirit prior to the Thomas and Uber cups. In the past, the PBSI usually held mock matches to help the teams deal with pressures in the field.
Taufik suggested that the PBSI immediately revamp the training system, which he said was old-fashioned, including by hiring better coaches if Indonesia was to stay in the game.
A similar concern came from Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Imam Nahrawi, who asked the PBSI to evaluate and learn from the defeats as the Asian Games was approaching and the public expected the national team to win as many gold medals as possible. Nahrawi also wants the badminton body to improve its regeneration system.
Nahrawi believes the PBSI had found the right formula to help the shuttlers perform better. “The PBSI should do a thorough evaluation. That many of our coaches work overseas proves that they can succeed and I think we can call them back,” he said.
Thailand has hired Indonesian 1996 Olympics gold medalist Rexy Mainaky to coach its women’s team and within one-and-a-half years, he guided them to reach the Uber Cup finals for the first time by upsetting Indonesia in the process. More surprisingly, under Rexy, the Thai women ousted giant China, which has won the Uber Cup a record 14 times.
Thailand fell at the last hurdle, losing to Japan, which had waited 37 years to finally take the coveted trophy back to Tokyo.
But will changing coaches be the panacea for Indonesia?
A coach is the closest and most trusted person to each athlete and plays a very important role on and off the court. A coach can bring out an athlete’s talent and confidence. It would be too risky to replace a coach with the Asian Games less than three months away.
As we all know, badminton is Indonesia’s best bet to win gold medals at the quadrennial event, although the host also hopes to shine in other events like weightlifting, archery and wushu.
Although President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s target of the country finishing in the top 10 in the medals tally may be overly ambitious, badminton is the sport that offers the biggest chance to contribute medals.
Competing before a home crowd in a brand new stadium, the national shuttlers will have to show their best form. As always, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Thailand will stand in Indonesia’s way to glory.
The Indonesia Open on July 3 to 8 will be the last warm-up for the national players ahead of the Asian Games. The PBSI has to race against time to consolidate with the coaches and shuttlers so as to set the right priorities.
More than just successfully hosting the Asian Games, the second-largest sporting event in the world, Indonesians want to see their athletes win laurels.