Born in 1958, Morten Frost started playing badminton at age eight and quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with. He claims he learned how to play by watching others, not through a coach. With his slim body and athletic skills (in Danish amateur athletics, Frost was able to clear his own height at High Jump), he soon put his observations into practice.
After making his mark at the Danish junior level from 1974 to 1976 and as a finalist at the 1975 European Junior Championships, Frost made his breakthrough at the Danish National Senior Championships in 1978 after beating 1975 All England winner Svend Pri and reigning World Champion Flemming Delfs to claim his first of 9 national titles in singles alone.
After his success on the Danish scene in the early 1980s, his friend, Indian great Prakash Padukone (winner of the 1980 All England), moved to Copenhagen for a short period. Their months of training together gave more depth to the Dane’s arsenal, adding a sharp smash to his array of shots.
Soon thereafter came international success, such as his first Danish Open crown in 1981 and his first All England title in 1982, the first of his eight consecutive finals at Wembley Arena. He repeated the feat in 1984, 1986, and 1987. It is not surprising that Frost once said: “The All England is ‘my tournament’ - after three semi-finals I reached the finals eight years in a row in the 1980s and I won four times. No other tournament has that atmosphere and history attached to it.”
Frost offered a disappointing performance at the 1983 World Championships held in Copenhagen, where he suffered a devastating 5-15, 3-15 loss to the eventual winner Icuk Sugiarto in front of four thousand disappointed Danish fans.
His World Championships defeat was somewhat overshadowed by his 70-minute 1984 All England final against Liem Swie King. In a match that has become iconic, Frost fought back tooth and nail from a game down and a score of 5-10 in the second. Frost’s determination finally paid off and was highlighted in the last rally of the match, when he dove twice to reach the shuttlecock and successfully closed the match with a score of 9-15, 15-10, 15-10. His final dive has been immortalised by Danish photographer Preben Søborg in one of the most famous pictures in badminton history.
Frost once again affirmed his domination in world badminton in December of that same year at the 1984 World Grand Prix Finals in Kuala Lumpur, a tournament reserved for the top players of the year. In the heat and humidity of Malaysia, Frost easily triumphed in the final against Liem Swie King.
Despite his fabulous international results in 1984 and the fact that he was unbeaten by a European player for five years, his final at the 1985 World Championships was the opposite of his 1984 All England ordeal. Frost cruised through to the final – leaving only 44 points to his opponents in his first five matches – where he met Han Jian of China. He was leading 8-3 at the change of sides in the third set before losing 12 points in succession and the match to the Chinese player.
A second chance to grab the much-coveted World Championships gold medal almost became reality at the 1987 World Championships in Beijing, but Frost fell once again to a Chinese opponent, this time Yang Yang, in three sets, 2-15, 15-13, 12-15, in a 83-minute thriller marred by doubtful line calls. His last attempts at the subsequent 1989 (Jakarta) and 1991 (Copenhagen) Championships ended at the fourth and first rounds respectively. His participation at the 1991 World Championships would be his last appearance as an international player.
The successful Dane reflects on his career: “I’ve always maintained that we were lucky to have played the game in (the) 1980s and early 1990s. That was a period that saw a great diversity in styles.”
After his playing career, Frost signed a contract with the Danish Badminton Association to be the Director of Performance from 1993 until his resignation in 1996, at which point he headed to Malaysia to be the head coach of the Malaysian national team for more than three years. He led the Malaysian team to a successful campaign at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. In 2001, he accepted a job as the National Coach for Badminton South Africa. In stark contrast to Denmark and Malaysia, where badminton is a well-established sport, in South Africa everything had to be built from scratch. Frost loved the challenge, saying “most likely I could have had a better-paid job somewhere else in the world. But it was such a good experience in my life to help create something, to see it grow from out of nothing.” Following his South African experience, he went back to Denmark to hold various responsibilities within Badminton Danmark from 2005 to 2011. In 2014, Morten signed a six-year contract with the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) to be their national technical director from March 2015 to December 2020.
Despite all his years spent as a world class coach, Frost believes that a good player has to learn to think by himself. “(To) me a good player is one who constantly asks him or herself questions about his game, who analyses matches and asks why one thing went wrong and why another was successful, and who makes use of the answers in the coming matches.” Frost did exactly that in his playing years, keeping thick records of notes on his opponents that he took while watching them play. It is not surprising that his best friend on the circuit, Prakash Padukone, not only lauds Frost as “one of the most consistent players of the 1980s”, but also as a “very intelligent player (who) was able to study opponents’ games well and change tactics accordingly”.
However, even before becoming a coach, Frost liked to share his views on badminton and its various technical and psychological aspects; for two years he even wrote a column in the now-defunct World Badminton magazine. He enjoyed studying not only badminton and people, but also literature, being a history graduate at the University of Copenhagen and a great fan of Danish classics.
The highly-acclaimed coach, who as a player was known for his smooth footwork, perfect balance, and patience on the court, once shared his vision of the game: “(The) two most important things in badminton: “to keep the shuttle going, and to hold it inside the lines”.
On experience, he said: “An experienced player is often a better teacher than the world’s best-educated instructor, who has not tried the game at top level on his own body.” Along with experience, Frost believed in the importance of discipline: “(…) when all the basic things such as stamina, speed, anticipation, eye for the shuttle, determination, and special shots are all there, there is one thing which the players must have in common and which is probably the most important thing. The word is 'Discipline'.”
Frost lived up to his ideas as he was never late for training and pushed himself to every possible limit. He wasn’t a big fan of routines – "the shuttlecock doesn’t always come from the same place", he said – but nevertheless he was a training monster. He used to run for kilometers every day and didn’t mind playing up to 15 matches in a single day.
His desire to win, even on holidays, is the source of many anecdotes. While training in England – where he moved in 1985 to avoid Denmark’s fiscal system – he used to challenge English international players with whom he trained by giving them a 13-0 or 14-0 lead in a game. This was Frost’s way of learning to be error-free, and he rarely lost. "I hate to lose more than most", he said. "I have the will to win EVERY time!" Frost was indeed always hungry for victory and was “[one] of the few players who played in all tournaments and did not believe in peaking for certain important events”, according to his friend Padukone.
In his personal life, Morten Frost was married to Ulla-Britt Hansen, with whom he won the 1984 Danish National Championships in mixed doubles. In 1993, he married Charlotte Zwicky with whom he had three children: Josefine, Thomas, and Kristian, who is a successful squash player.
Morten Frost was inducted into the IBF Hall of Fame in 1998. In April 2016, Frost became the fourth player to be inducted into Badminton Europe’s Hall of Fame.
1978 – Årets Fund (Danish Sports Federation Discovery of the Year Award)
1982 – BT Gold Medal for Sportsman of the year
1991 – IBF Distinguished Service Award
1997 – Danish Sports Hall of Fame
1998 – Danish Ministry of Sports and Culture's Distinguished Award
1998 – IBF Hall of Fame
2016 – Badminton Europe Hall of Fame
Badminton Danmarks fortjensttegn (Badminton Denmark Meritorious Award)
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
All England 2005 Official Programme
Badminton Handbook (Bernd Volker-Brahms)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Linkedin.com (Morten Frost’s Profile)
Touch Play – The Prakash Padukone Story (Dev Sukumar)
World Badminton (Magazine)
-- By Yves Lacroix