Rudy Hartono Kurniawan, who was born in Surabaya under the name Nio Hap Liang, is the third child of a family of eight, which also includes his sister Jeanne Utama Dewi, a three-time national champion and former Uber Cup team member.
The young Rudy Hartono embraced many types of sports – athletics, volleyball, football, and even roller skating – but his athletic path soon led him towards badminton.
Under the guidance of his father, Hartono soon became a training addict, training wherever he could, even on the concrete floor of a local railway station. “My father, a great believer in the importance of physical fitness, used to wake me up at 4 or 5 in the morning for training”, he recalls.
“I was already training on my own before my 14th birthday; morning, afternoon and night without any coach helping me. I remember vividly that it used to be so boring.” Hartono imposed a tough discipline on himself at an early age, and he soon became familiar with the concept of 'no pain, no gain'.
His natural skills were further developed when he joined the National Training Center in 1965 in order to help his national team in the upcoming Thomas Cup. His “no pain, no gain” attitude quickly paid off. As a member of the 1966-1967 Thomas Cup squad, he won all of his matches, but Indonesia was beaten by Malaysia in a highly controversial final in which play was suspended (and never resumed) due to the unruly crowd.
A year later, at his first try at the All England Championships (for which Hartono trained for no less than six months, showing just how prestigious the tournament was at the time), the 18-year-7-monthold Indonesian became the youngest ever champion of the tournament, beating Tan Aik Huang from Malaysia who had been the winner two years earlier.
From then on, Hartono dominated the event like very few had before, winning eight titles in all, from 1969 to 1976. From 1969 to 1973, Hartono conceded an average of only eight points per final. In 1969, he allowed his six opponents only 44 points in 12 games. He did even better in 1971, allowing only 39 points in the same number of games.
Every player has an archrival. For Hartono, it was Svend Pri, a Danish attacker. Pri had twice challenged Hartono for the All England title in 1970 and 1972, but the Indonesian had always quickly dismissed the Dane’s attempts. Pri’s efforts finally paid off in 1975 when Hartono -- in search of an eighth consecutive title and the chance to break Erland Kop’s record of seven titles -- was not able to fend off Pri’s attack and fell 11-15, 14-17.
But Hartono came back the following year to win his eighth and final title against compatriot Liem Swie King. Deemed by many a final in which commitment was not at its highest level, Hartono nevertheless made history and became the most successful men’s singles player in the history of the tournament. “It was a duty for me to break a record, and another record, and yet another record”, said Hartono about his incredible winning streak. His eight titles at the All England earned Hartono a mention in the Guinness Book of Records.
During his prime, Hartono became the first ever badminton Olympic champion when he defeated the same relentless Svend Pri in the finals of the 1972 Munich Games in which badminton was presented as a demonstration sport.
Hartono was active in Thomas Cup competition as early as 1966-1967, and played for his country at the event from 1967 to 1982.
His debut in 1966-1967 was successful on a personal level in the finals against Malaysia, with Hartono winning both of his singles – but events unfolded in an unpredictable fashion when play was suspended due to a ruckus in Jakarta’s Istora Senayan stadium. Play was never resumed and Malaysia was later declared the winner of the tie by the referee.
The next four Thomas Cup campaigns, held in 1970, 1973, 1967, and 1979, were resounding successes for Hartono and his team, with Indonesia sweeping all four titles. However, at the 1973 finals, also held in Istora Senayan stadium, Hartono was the only player to lose a match, falling to his long-time rival Pri with the very tight score of 12-15, 15-5, 15-17. Despite winning his other singles match and two doubles encounters, Hartono felt that his loss against Pri was the most heartbreaking of his career.
Despite his resounding successes at the All England and Thomas Cup, the Indonesian champion, who had skipped the first World Championships held in 1977, was hungry for more and decided to make the most of the 1980 World Championships to be held in Jakarta. “I thought I was getting old for the World Championships. I had eight unofficial world titles [All England, editor’s note] but no official one. That’s what motivated me in 1980” recalls Hartono. That opportunity turned into gold when, in front of 14,000 spectators, Hartono beat his 1976 and 1978 All England opponent, Liem Swie King.
By that time, Hartono had reached his peak and his defeat in the semifinals of the 1981 All England made him realize that his better days as a player were behind him. Nevertheless, he answered the call and attempted to make a final comeback at the 1982 Thomas Cup. Unfortunately, his play was not at par with his previous performances and, with only ten weeks of training, an aging Hartono was not able to help his team prevent China from winning their first ever Thomas Cup title. Hartono’s defeat to Luan Jin was the Indonesian’s swan song.
After his playing career, Rudy Hartono became involved with the Indonesian Badminton Association (PBSI), holding different positions such as Chairman of Development Affairs until 2006. He is currently a member of PBSI’s Board of Honour.
Hartono also played an active role within the Badminton World Federation (BWF). He was a member of the Council in 1985-1986, and later from 1994 to 2009. The BWF awarded him with the Herbert Scheele Award in 1986 and inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1997.
Hartono’s image and reputation led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to appoint him as a Goodwill Ambassador for Indonesia. In 1988, another United Nations organisation, UNESCO, honored him with an official award in recognition for his distinguished services to physical education and sport.
During all these years, Hartono’s attitude towards the sport of badminton may surprise many. For each of the points he earned during a match, he would thank God until the game ended. “People try but God decides”, says the Indonesian.
Reflecting on his career, Hartono notes that he was “lucky that (he) came in at a time when the game was in a transition phase from stroke-play to power-play, and that (he) was an attacking player.” Always a superbly fit athlete in his prime, Hartono suffered a heart attack in 1988 which restricts his ability to play badminton, and these days he gets most of his exercise from walking. Despite his health problems, Rudy Hartono still defines himself through badminton: “My racket is my soul. Without my racket I’m just an ordinary human being. Through my racket I can make my country proud.”
Off the court, Rudy married Jane Anwar in August 1976, and they have two children.
1969 – Best Sportsman SIWO/PWI
1974 – Best Sportsman SIWO/PWI
1986 – IBF Herbert Scheele Award
1997 – IBF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
All England 2011 Official Programme
Apa & Siapa (Sabaruddin Sa.)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
Rudy Hartono Story (Video)
Straits Times (6 September 1972)
World Badminton (September 1994)
-- By Yves Lacroix