Rudy Hartono - A Legend20 December, 2017
Rudy Hartono visited the All England Championships in 1968 as the Indonesian No 1 and was seeded three or four. He had shown his promise the year before by defeating Tan Aik Huang in the Thomas Cup. In the Empire Pool he did not disappoint his followers. The 18-year-old Jawa-born Rudy Hartono joined the elite trio of Conny Jepsen, David Freeman and Tan Joe Hok in winning the singles at the first attempt. His dominance of men's singles surpassed all others, and he became a legend in the record books long before winning the official World Championships 1980 in Djakarta.
For many years Indonesia has dominated the game of Badminton at international level.
How is Badminton evaluated in your country? I asked Rudy.
"Soccer is considered the national sport in Indonesia", he said."It is my impression though that the Badminton players are more popular than the soccer players, mainly because they win more often. The Indonesians are crazy about Badminton.
What does it mean to you and your team mates being world class players?
"It helps to higher our social status. People know and respect us. You obtain some privileges."
"The government, for example, made it possible for me to get an education, to pay for my family's upkeep and to go on playing Badminton at top-level without it costing me a penny."
But you haven ever been on the government's payroll?
"No, of course not. I am an amateur. I have not even got the prize-money I have won. That has gone to the federation, who have placed it on an account. But I will get it when my career is over. By the way, it isn't that
How much time have you spent on Badminton during the ten years you have been in the national team?
"Usually six months a year. During that time Badminton is No1 for me and the other top players. We practise five hours daily, four hours technical and one hour physical training. For the rest of the day it's relaxation, eating and studying. For me it hasn't been a problem to combine my sport with my education.
And not even exhausting?
"Oh yes - when I played in the tournaments. It was a great pressure knowing that all Indonesians expected me to win every time. In the beginning it didn't bother me, but later on it wasn't so funny, especially not when I lost. The public and the Press got angry and blamed me. But that's life; you can't win them all unless your name is Bjorn Borg."
How is it to be a famous person?
"Sometimes it's pleasant, but it's never really enjoyable."
It has been said that you are the most popular person in Indonesia and better known generally than President Suharto.
"That's truly an exaggeration. But it's true that I was elected Sportsman of the Year in my country in 1980. The same year I won the official World Championship. I think, it's natural that the most people in Indonesia know me and the other Badminton players very well since the Indonesian Press follow us all over the world as shadows."
How do people treat you?
"I can't walk on the streets of Djakarta without everybody stopping me to say hello. 'It's especially annoying after a victory; then everybody wants to shake hands and have my autograph. They also want to discuss the match. I know they do it well meaningly, but it's terrible not to be able to be private, just because people regard you as a folk hero."
During the All-England Championships this year a reporter asked you, why you had regretted your retirement, and you answered that you hadn't retired, but only made a break. Why did you make that break?
"I needed it, mentally and physically. Besides I wanted to finish my education in economics and to spend more time with my wife and my children. We got married in 1976. In the beginning it was very hard to get along without each other for the six months that I more or less had to concentrate on Badminton."
Did anybody force you to make a comeback just because the official World Championships were to take place in Djakarta in 1980?
"No, on the contrary. I played because I wanted to, and because it was my ambition to become the real world champion. Furthermore I knew it was my last chance."
How many years do you intend to go on with Badminton on international level?
"As long as I'm able to qualify for the semi or the quarter finals of the big tournaments."
And that means...
"Three years, I believe."
In 1980 you won the World Championship. In March 1981 you lost to Padukone Prakash in the semi-finals in both the Danish Open and the All-England. What do you think the Indonesians feel about those defeats?
"They will say: 'It's okay, Rudy is an old man now.' They will still expect something of me, but they will understand that in the future I won't be able to win as often as before, and that King is now the star.''
Why did you become a Badminton player in the first place?
"My father has always been crazy about Badminton, and he aroused my interest in the game. He played with me in the back yard, and he taught me the basics of the game. He never achieved anything himself in Badminton, and that was maybe why he badly wanted his children to go far. I have four brothers and three sisters, and we all play Badminton. I am the third child."
Who is the best player you have ever met?
"Svend Pri, no doubt about that. At the same time he was my rival and my friend. He was something special, so different from all the others. I have never met a player with such unbelieveable will-power. When he played against me, he always tried 100 per cent to win.That was good for the game of Badminton and for me because it helped me develop. Nobody could challenge me better than Svend.''
So it didn't hurt so bad to lose to him in the final of the All-England final in 1975?
"I was both disappointed and vexed, and it was no consolation that I had won the singles finals seven years in a row before that. Svend deserved that victory, partly because he had fought so hard to achieve it for several years; partly because he was so determined to beat me."
It's not unusual that the Indonesians excel in Europe, but it's rare that the Europeans win a match in Indonesia. How do you explain that?
"It's easier to convert from heat to cold - than vice-versa. Of course the climate in the north is a handicap for us, but we can better adapt. The heat and the humidity in Indonesia, however, is so terrible that it gives the Europeans more problems than they can handle. Svend Pri is the only European player, who has ever been able to defeat me in Djakarta."
Morten Frost has taken over the No1 position in Danish Badminton from Svend Pri. What do you think about Frost?
"He is a top player, and he has the chance to win the All-England Championship some day - as both Svend and Flemming Delfs did. But in order to do that he has to improve his physical strength and to be more determined and aggressive on the court. It's getting more difficult to win the singles in the Empire Pool, and next year it will be worse than ever.''
"Because the Chinese are coming. That is not regrettable, on the contrary. It will benefit the game that they will be included in the family."
Talking about family, the players in the Badminton elite are like a big family.
"Yes, and that's good. There is a relationship in Badminton unlike other sports as far as I know. There are no geographical limits for the friendship, no jealousy. But perhaps that will change."
Why do you think that?
"It's my feeling that the open tournaments will ruin a lot of friendship. Anyway it won't be so enjoyable and pleasant as now, when there is much more money at stake."
It doesn't annoy you that you weren't born ten years later?
"No, certainly not. But I have never had reason to complain. Since I first played in the All England Championships and won the final, I have been privileged in my native country.''
In which way?
"It has, for example, been my luck to be able to play Badminton and at the same time get an education, without putting me in debt. Besides my achievements have given me several commercial contracts."
What do you advertise?
"Shoes, milk, soft drinks and other things."
Saying that, you admit that you have earned money from your sport. What about the Indonesian government? It is said that it often appreciates a good performance.
"There is a lot of talk, but it's true I have got some presents. When I won the All-England for the third time the Government gave me a house."
You have managed to win everything in Badminton, and still you go on. What does your wife say?
"That I am crazy. But as I say: 'the Indonesians are crazy about Badminton."
-- World Badminton, September 1981