On April 9, 1928, in Holbæk, a Danish badminton star was born. Her father owned the local pharmacy which was previously owned by her grandfather. Kirsten Thorndahl began playing national tournaments in Denmark and won 4 junior titles from 1943 to 1946. At the age of 18, she won her first national senior title in 1946. She would go on to win a total of 12 senior national titles from 1946 to 1962.
The 1947 All England was the first edition after the World War II hiatus. Conditions were notoriously rough at the Harringay Arena which served as the All England venue from 1947 to 1949. The winter of 1947 was harsh and heavy snowfall disrupted the delivery of coal to many electric power stations. Due to this, there were restrictions placed on power consumption. In addition, the snow drifted in the building and disrupted play. These were the conditions in which Thorndahl competed in her first All England. Despite the grueling conditions, Thorndahl became one of the forerunners in the Danish invasion of badminton after WWII. On her first try, Thorndahl reached the final round for all three events. She won the Women’s Doubles with Tonny Ahm but narrowly lost in Mixed Doubles to compatriots, Poul Holm and Ahm 15-13, 13-15, 15-12. Even though she was not seeded first, Thorndahl’s performance in the early rounds of the tournament impressed the media to the point that the Northern Daily Mail dubbed her as the favourite to win the Women’s Singles title. The British newspapers reported that her final match against fellow Dane, Marie Ussing, was played “in artificial light by special permission.” It was a very close match but the title slipped from Thorndahl’s grasp with a loss of 6-11, 11-6, 10-12.
Thorndahl would return the next year to prove that her great performance at the 1947 All England was indeed no fluke. The 19-year old Dane once again reached all three finals and emerged victorious in all of them with relative ease. She crushed her compatriot and doubles partner, Tonny Ahm, 11-7, 11-0 in the Women Singles final thus becoming 1 of the 7 consecutive Women’s Singles Danish winners at the All England from 1947 to 1953. Before the WWII hiatus, Dorothy Walton of Canada held the honour of being the only non-British Women’s Singles title holder since the beginning of the tournament. Thorndahl then teamed up with Jørn Skaarup in Mixed doubles to beat Conny Jepsen and Aase Svendsen, 15-10, 15-2 for a second time. Thorndahl continued her streak of devastation with Ahm and defeated Betty Uber and Queenie Allen 15-6, 12-15, 15-1 to complete her triple crown.
In her memoirs, Betty Uber wrote: “…Queenie Allen and myself reached the Final of the Ladies’ Doubles, which we lost in three games to Kirsten Thorndahl and Toni Ahm. The Danes were too fast, too severe and were also so full of confidence and belief that they could win.”
With her triple crown at the 1948 All England, Thorndahl became the first non-British female player to win all 3 possible titles. At that tournament, players from Denmark won all five events. It would not be until 2009 that players from China would replicate this feat.
Thorndahl would continue to exert her dominance at the All England with the accumulation of another 7 titles. She won her last title in Mixed Doubles with Finn Kobberø in 1961.
Thorndahl had similar success at the Danish Open at which she also won 11 titles. She first appeared on the list of winners in 1946 with 2 titles - 1 in Women’s Doubles with Ahm and 1 in Mixed Doubles with Tage Madsen. The pair successfully defended their title for 3 consecutive years from 1946 to 1948. Thorndahl added her 4th Mixed Doubles title in 1951 with Arve Lossman but it was in Women’s Doubles in which Thorndahl left her mark. Thorndahl and Ahm won an impressive 6 titles together at the Danish Open. They won in 1946 and reigned for 5 consecutive years from 1948 to 1952. Thorndahl won a 7th title in Women’s Doubles with Anni Jørgensen in 1956. Since the Danish Open was on hiatus from 1957 to 1965, one could not help but wonder how many more titles Thorndahl might have won.
Thorndahl also participated in two Uber Cup campaigns for Denmark. At the inaugural Uber Cup in 1957, USA trounced Denmark 6-1 in the final. Thorndahl won Denmark’s sole point in Women’s Doubles with Anni Hammergaard Hansen (formerly Jørgensen). At the next edition of the Uber Cup in 1960, she also won a match in Women’s Doubles in the final against the Americans but it did not suffice as Denmark once again lost 2-5 in the final round.
Thorndahl competed in her last known tournament at the 1964 German Open in which she was a finalist in Mixed Doubles with Knud Aage Nielsen.
With her 17 appearances in the final round and 11 titles at the All England, Thorndahl is one of the more successful Danish players in badminton history. In total, she won 25 international titles in individual competitions as well as 2 silver medals for Denmark at the Uber Cup. At the height of her career, the Leicester Mercury described the Dane’s play as “youth, intense concentration and accuracy.” In 1956, the Daily Herald likened Thorndahl to Little Mo of Empress Hall, a famous tennis player at the time known for her all-around talent, who was also a woman of small stature with impressive results.
She was among the first to combine her clerical job at Carlsberg – which she had taken following her father’s wishes – with a sponsorship. Her well-known and popular face was used to advertise the famous beer and its products. Her son and only child, Per, grew up seeing his mother's face on lorries and other Carlsberg advertisements. Later on, she left her office job at Carlsberg to pursue a career as a nurse. Following an illness, she took an early retirement and went to live in her summer house in the seaside resort of Rørvig.
For her achievements, Thorndahl was inducted into the IBF Hall of Fame in 2000.
Kirsten Thorndahl passed away on September 21st, 2007 in Rørvig, Denmark.
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS (in order by year)
2000 – IBF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
All England 2010 Official Programme
Badminton Association of England Annual Handbook 1967-1968 Edition
Badminton Story (Bernard Adams)
Brief History of Badminton from 1870 to 1949 (Betty Uber)
Daily Herald (March 1st, 1950)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
International Badminton … the first 75 years (BWF)
-- By Yves Lacroix