Lene Køppen is one of the most popular badminton players in history, having dominated Danish badminton for more than a decade. Humble in victoryandgraciousindefeat, a model of fair play, Køppen charmed fans in Denmark and worldwide.
Although Køppen was a late bloomer in badminton and started playing at around age 14, she soon met with success at the Danish junior national level with titles in women’s doubles in the U-16 and U-18 categories. In 1971, she won the European Junior Championships with Anne Berglund. And at age 18, she reached the semi-finals of the 1972 All England Championships.
In the first half of the 1970s, Køppen made her way to the top of world badminton with titles at the 1974 Danish and Swedish Opens, as well as her first titles at the Danish National Championships and Nordic Championships. Køppen went on to win 24 national senior titles from 1972 to 1983 in doubles, mixed, and in an unbeaten streak in singles. She was the queen of the Nordic Championships (an individual competition between Scandinavian countries) with 25 titles, including a record seven consecutive Triple Crowns from 1975 to 1981.
Despite numerous titles at the Danish Open, Swedish Open and Nordic Championships, Køppen’s first five attempts at the All England all ended at the semi-final stage, and it wasn’t until 1977 that she at last reached her first final against workhorse Hiroe Yuki of Japan.
Hiroe compares her 1977 All England final against Lene to the rest of her illustrious career: “This final was the toughest match I have ever experienced. The latter part of the final setbecame a game of sheer force of will and spirit, pursuing the shuttle to continue rallies for solong that by the time we reached a position to make a smash we had lost the power to do so.” Køppen displayed her sense of fair play when on the victor’s podium: she acknowledged Yuki’s superiority by raising her arm.
Køppen’s amazing running and retrieving capabilities helped her peak at just the right moment when the first-ever World Championships were held in Malmö, Sweden, just a few kilometers away from her base in Copenhagen. In singles, the Dane survived the strong English and Japanese squads who dominated the event at the time, before meeting England’s Gillian Gilks in the final, in which she had to fight hard to win the first ever World Championships women’s singles gold medal, 12-9, 12-11. The win was so significant to fans that someone from the crowd took advantage of the commotion following the match to grab the shuttlecock of victory, forcing security to retrieve it so that it could be awarded to the victor.
Køppen’s partnership with fellow countyman Steen Skovgaard also reached its pinnacle at the exact right moment. Reaching the final against the highly seeded pair of Derek Talbot and Gillian Gilks, the two Danes won the match 15-12, 18-17 to give Køppen a second World Championships gold medal.
1978 saw Køppen win the European Championships in singles but success at the All England would have to wait one more year. At the 1979 edition of the tournament, the Dane finally succeeded after six failed attempts (five semis and one final) under her belt. In the final, Køppen struggled against Saori Kondo of Japan in a fierce battle. The Dane was trailing 2-7 in the final and third set before she fought back and prevailed 13-9, 1-11, 11-8. Køppen became the first Dane to win in women’s singles at the All England since Marie Ussing did it in 1953. In 1980, Køppen cruised through the final and had no problems winning her second All England title against giant Verawaty Wiharjo of Indonesia.
Her participation at the 1980 World Championships held in Jakarta ended with two bronze medals, one in singles and the other in mixed with her faithful companion, Steen Skovgaard.
In 1982, Køppen once again confirmed her domination of European badminton with a second gold medal in singles at the European Championships. However, in that same year, China proved that it had become the leading country in the event with seven quarter-finalists in singles. Køppen was the only outsider remaining at that stage, and disappeared in the semis.
Despite China’s domination of the event, hopes were high for Køppen when the organisation of the 1983 World Championships was awarded to Denmark. To mark the event, the Danish postal service issued a 2.70 DKK stamp featuring Køppen. In what became the last match of her career, the Dane was not able to live up to the hopes of her countrymen and crashed in the second round to the young Kim Yun-ja of Korea.
In total, during her career, Lene Køppen played 48 caps for Denmark, from 1971 to 1983.
At the height of her popularity in 1982, in a poll conducted by one of Denmark’s leading newspapers, Ekstra Bladet, Køppen was voted the most popular sportsperson in the country, beating both the Danish XI football team and Björn Borg.
Køppen will be remembered for several facets of her game: her amazing retrieving capabilities, being able to produce adventurous yet winning shots from desperate situations, catching the shuttlecock inches from the floor, and making killer crosscourt shots. Her amazing running abilities tired out her opponents and enabled her to demonstrate who the boss on court was.
Her precise shots were lauded by many, as was her ability to concentrate. “It is not good to argue – besides, you only lose concentration,” the Danish champion once claimed.
Køppen’s athletic heritage was passed on to her by her father, who played more than 300 matches for the BK Copenhagen soccer team, and then from her to her daughter Marie Røpke, who is currently one of the top women’s doubles players in the world.
In her personal life, Køppen studied to become a dentist and graduated from dental school the same year she won her World Championships final, in 1977.
Among many other awards, Lene Køppen was made an honorary member of the Danish Sports Federation in 1992, and was inducted into the International Badminton Federation (IBF) Hall of Fame in 1998.
1977 – BT Gold Medal for Sportsman of the year
1981 – Årets tolver i Ekstra Bladet (Ekstra Bladet award for most popular Danish sportsperson)
1985 – IBF Distinguished Service Award
1992 – Honorary Member of the Danish Sports Federation
1998 – IBF Hall of Fame
2015 – Badminton Europe Hall of Fame
Badminton Danmarks fortjensttegn (Badminton Denmark Meritorious Award)
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Badminton Handbook (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Hall of Fame 2013 (Sportens Hall of Fame)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
-- By Yves Lacroix