In 1971, Ricky Ahmad Soebagdja was born into one of the many football-infatuated families in Bandung, Indonesia. Despite his father’s goalkeeping talents and young Ricky’s love and talent for the sport, his mother was not fond of her son coming back dirty after play and reorientated her son towards badminton.
This providential move permitted Ricky to shine in his local badminton club located in Bandung. As his training hours gradually increased, so did his results. The early achievements of the young Ricky quickly earned him an invitation to the national training centre in Jakarta by 1986.
Ricky’s first years within the national training centre were not easy. He was first paired with Rexy’s brother, Richard, but was later paired by coach, Christian Hadinata, with Rexy whom he partnered until the end of his career.
Ricky had a brief glimpse of success when he won the 1991 SEA Games Mixed Doubles event with Rosiana Tendean but it was only with Rexy that the Bandung-born athlete really rose to the top of his game.
The newly-formed but promising duo had a respectable start at the 1991 World Championships – their fourth international tournament together – with a third-round loss to the eventual winners, Park Joo Bong and Kim Moon Soo from Korea. Less than a year later, the Indonesian pair were once again stopped by the same Korean pair at the quarter-finals of the 1992 Olympic Games, in which badminton made its first appearance as a fully-fledged event. As the pair set their goals much higher, Ricky and Rexy were disappointed by their quarter-final finish but coach Hadinata took the pair under his wing and convinced his protégés to look four years ahead.
Their performance at Barcelona was a blessing in disguise as the pair ended 1992 with four titles in less than two months. Ricky and Rexy won three Opens in a row – China, Hong Kong and Thailand – before winning the World Grand Prix Finals in Malaysia. Their first win against the Malaysian pair of Cheah Soon Kit and Soo Beng Kiang was to be the beginning of a series of wins against Cheah. He and his later partner, Yap Kim Hock, soon became Ricky and Rexy’s primary archrivals and the ongoing battle between the Indonesians and Malaysians transformed into one of the fiercest rivalries in men’s doubles history.
Despite their brillliant results at the end of 1992, Ricky’s first World Championships took an unexpected turn when Rexy suddenly fell ill and pulled out of the Birmingham event. Ricky teamed up with Rudy Gunawan and the scratch pair surprisingly went all the way and easily defeated the Malaysians, Cheah and Soo, in the final.
Ricky and Rexy steamrolled over 1994 with seven international titles – including a gold at the Asian Games – but their best was yet to come. The Indonesian pair – by then known as ‘Sexy Rexy and Tricky Ricky’, the latter’s favorite trick being serving the shuttle without looking at it – were safely on their road to an incredibly successful 1995-1996 campaign. The pair started with two back-to-back Open wins in Korea and Japan before winning their first All England title two months later.
It was with such great momentum that Rexy and Ricky headed to the Lausanne World Championships in May, to redeem Rexy’s absence in 1993 and defend Ricky’s title. Both players succeeded in their respective challenges and won 15-5, 15-2 against the Danish pair of Thomas Lund and Jon Holst-Christensen.
By then, the Indonesian pair was definitely the team to beat. In their drive towards the 1996 Olympic Games, the Indonesian duo added more honours to their collection by successfully defending their titles at the Japan Open, Korea Open and All England. Having established their supremacy in men’s doubles, the pair still had to prove themselves at the upcoming Olympic Games in Atlanta. At the height of their supremacy, the pair were uncontested in their Olympic campaign until the final in which they ran into their archrivals, Cheah and Yap. The Malaysians fought hard but the Indonesians prevailed after recovering from a nervous start. The scoreboard was signaling their 5-15, 15-13, 15-12 victory when Ricky rushed to the back of the court and jumped in the arms of coach Christian Hadinata.
After their groundbreaking win at Atlanta, the Indonesians managed to clinch even more prestigious titles, such as the 1996 World Grand Prix Finals in Bali. The duo’s uncanny ability to produce points at will slowed down in 1997 but it still managed to lead them to the podium with a bronze medal at the World Championships after going down to Cheah and Yap in the semis. Despite slowing down, Ricky and Rexy bounced back in 1998 with a second consecutive title at the Asian Games and a participation in Team Indonesia’s third consecutive Thomas Cup title.
Their swan title as a pair was on home soil at the 1999 Indonesia Open held in Denpasar. Unfortunately, they were unable to retain their Olympic title in Sydney after falling in the quarter finals.
After his career as a player, Ricky married former national swimmer, Elsa Manora Nasution. The couple divorced in 2006. Ricky was also involved with Rexy in the construction of a badminton academy in Batam before becoming an ambassador for Flypower, an Indonesian badminton gear company founded by Heryanto Arbi.
Along with other badminton greats, Ricky joined the PBSI coaching staff in 2012, and is now in charge of the national training programme.
2009 – BWF Hall of Fame (with partner Rexy Mainaky)
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Apa & Siapa (Sabaruddin Sa.)
Badminton Handbook (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
World Badminton (Magazine)
World Championships 2015 Official Programme
-- By Yves Lacroix