Hoyer’s Joy14 April, 2016
Poul-Erik Hoyer's startling run of success which brought him the men's singles title was the best thing to happen to badminton at the Olympics.Poul-Erik Hoyer's startling run of success which brought him the men's singles title was the best thing to happen to badminton at the Olympics. He produced a series of temperamental, tactical and technical masterpieces to beat, in succession, the defending champion Allan Budi Kusuma, world champion Heryanto Arbi and the world number one Dong Jiong.
But his remarkable achievement had other dimensions to it. There had been the love story which helped elevate him from being a good player into a great one over the past two years. There was the devious languor and angular elegance which characterised his play. There had been a touch of controversy with his national association about his preparation. But it was important for badminton because of none of these things.
Hoyer has helped prevent badminton becoming too circumscribed. By becoming the only non-Asian to win an Olympic title, and the first to do so, he has landed a significant blow against a domination that might ultimately restrict the sport's progress.
One can only admire the Asian stars. That Hoyer created such a sensation by winning the title suggests how much has come to be expected from them, especially from the Indonesian men's singles players. The Dane defied the predictions, the odds, the vastly greater sums of money poured into the game elsewhere, and the inevitably superior organisation which most of his rivals had.
Hoyer's victory by 15-5, 15-9 in the quarter-finals was remarkable because it so rarely looked in doubt. Hoyer was the more solid in defence, the more penetrating in attack, and carried himself with a self-possessed air which conveyed confidence in the outcome.
Mid-way through the second game Kusuma delivered a fierce smash and tried to attack Hoyer harder. The shuttle was switched back across court with such ease, leaving Kusuma with such a scramble, that the eventual kill was worth more than one point.
That was as if a signal had been made. It seemed there was nothing new that Kusuma could try and little more he could do. There was to be no medal for him to give to Susi Susanti for their wedding next year.
Hoyer's victory over Arbi, by 15-11, 15-6 was perhaps the best of his achievement. The number three seed had stopped him in the semi-finals of last year's world championships, but Hoyer kept his mind on what had happened four years before in Barcelona, when Ardy's win in the quarter-finals had stopped him earning a medal. If the Indonesian had been able to get those spectacular jump smashes going again he would surely have won.
But Arbi could not. Instead he played rather nonchalantly, perhaps hiding his insecurity about the big occasion. He led 9-4 in the first game but was having difficulty reading the wrist which was the key to Hoyer's well-masked disguises.
Once Hoyer advanced to 10-9, Arbi's game started to fall apart. He queried a couple of calls which were in and was warned by the umpire for delaying. He threw away his racket at one stage, but cajoled himself enough to get to 11-10. After that the match ran away from him.
Hoyer manoeuvred Arbi about and denied him chances to smash. He was usually better than Arbi at the net and when Hoyer elicited lifts he frequently put them away, most often to the backhand side.
After winning the first game Hoyer advanced quickly to 5-1 in the second, and from 7-6 took control. He was very patient and focussed, while Arbi gave the impression he might be about to give up the struggle. This was not so, but that demeanour was eloquent of his uncertain inner state. At the end Hoyer sagged to his knees in delight. His had been a very fine performance, though this was not a great match.
The final, by contrast, was absorbing to the end. Once again Hoyer managed to frustrate his opponent, Dong Jiong, and prevent him from playing at his best. But the Chinese player fought with great determination, and not till the end of a second game lasting fully 71 rallies was the issue settled. Right until the finish of a 15-12, 15-10 defeat Dong was still threatening to come back.
Hoyer however was the calmer. He also had the more effective plan. And his silky skills which were superb. He was aware he had to play much of the march at the net if he was to deny Dong chances of employing the speediest arrack in the world. And when he got flicks and lifts from the net he had such control of the racket face angles he could cut the shuttle down into the spaces time and again.
Hoyer was once more behind in the first game, by 8-11. But he started to make progress by tying Dong up at the net and he finished the game with the combination of a velvety backhand push to the net and an arrogantly sliced cross court smash, subtly delivered as though neither p ace nor power were really necessary.
Hoyer took leads of 5-0, 10-5, a nd 12-7 in the second ga me, but Dong Jiong hung on. When he crept slowly back to 10-12 one began to wonder how Hoyer's stamina would stand the rest.
But there came a crucial decision, a fault called against Dong for moving before the shuttle had been struck by the server, which took Hoyer to 13-10 and appeared to encourage him. Three of the next seven rallies were finished with more of those lethally angled cuts, and with another right net shot/sliced smash combination it was all over.
Hoyer collapsed with elation, rolled over, and lay on his side like a foetus. He go t up to perform a hip-wiggling jaunt of triumph and appeared at the press conference with GOLD painted on his forehead. Dong was in t ears on the podium , but gave a long and generous hug to the winner.
"I was calm all through. I felt in control and I could see he was a bit nervous. He couldn't relax," said Hoyer. "I feel I am a better badminton player now I know that badminton is not the most important thing in my life. My wife and son are. I feel more relaxed."
Hoyer said that he had started preparing for the Olympics from April 1st when he qualified. He said nothing about not having wanted to play for his country in the European Championships and Thomas Cup, or about any friction that may have resulted from that. Morten Frost, with whom he has not always seen eye to eye over these matters, had been there applauding, supporting, helping.
Hoyer’s achievements in Atlanta were immense. He made himself one of the greatest heroes of a country that is used to having badminton stars. Will the Danish association still consider reducing his funding after all this?
The Indonesian preparations had so much more financial backing and so much more organisation that it was hard to believe that, in men's singles at least they had failed. Why did this happen?
Perhaps the drift was a factor. Several players expressed difficulty in coping with it. Given the extra pressure of the occasion the drift might have helped create uncertainty in the minds of some competitors.
Badminton stadia, particularly at the Olympics, should have airlocks on the doors, as they have at table tennis. These help regulate the temperatures and keep wind movement to a minimum.
Perhaps nerves played the biggest part in Indonesian disappointments too. Arbi clearly was unable to do himself justice, and Joko Suprianto wrestled manfully with tension but failed to conquer it. The top seed had wanted to make up for his surprising failure to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics and had invested so much of himself in preparing and wanting to do well in Atlanta. Suprianto struggled against Sweden's Jens Olsson and when he struggled again against Rashid Sidek his efforts were not enough. Rashid, who won 15-5, 15-12, was excellent. The Malaysian avoided long rallies, took the initiative, dragged the shuttle down steeply, and combined a high level of aggression with consistency.
By contrast, Dong's speed moved, Rashid about too much and the Commonwealth Champion ran out of puff in the semi-finals, though he played well again to beat Arbi 5-15, 1.5-11, 15-6 in the bronze medal play-off. Rashid thus continued a family achievement. Four years ago in Barcelona his elder brothers Jalani and Razif Sidek also won Olympic bronze, in the men's doubles.
There were other gems in a richly-jewelled tournament. Kenneth Erichsen of Guatemala suggested he may have become the first player from Central America to be climbing into world class when he came within two points of beating Olsson. And Kevin Han gave the American audience something to cheer by taking the Scottish Open champion Peter Knowles to three games.
Another Malaysian, Ong Ewe Hock, also played well, first beating the top Dutchman Jeroen van Dijk, and then running Hoyer closer than anyone, with a 17-14, 15-9 scoreline. A bigger surprise was the way in which Sun Jun, the hero of China's Sudirman Cup triumph, collapsed against Kusuma, earning only 11 points.
These were all emotional moments. It was emotion, positive or negative, inspiring or inhibiting, which had most to do with remarkable sequence of results. Bayer had been in control of his feelings during his matches but once he had finished they spectacularly got the better of him.
His words said more about the Olympic experience than anything: “When the last shots goes and you realise it is such a special moment, you are powerless with your feelings. I just fell to the ground. I couldn’t do anything else.”
-- By Richard Eaton (World Badminton Vol 24 No. 3, Sept 1996),