The most beautiful day!

It were busy weeks after the four tournaments that we played in March. The league season in the German Bundesliga is nearing its end, and we start to prepare for the European Championships in Kazan, Russia. Moreover Kim Nielsen, our new trainer and coach, arrives in the Netherlands and is now working fulltime for the Dutch Badminton Association.

For my team, 1.BV MĂĽlheim, the regular League season ends in a very strange way. Throughout the year we are leading in the League but in the last two matches against the numbers two and three of the list we waste 4 points and we finish 2nd. So we qualified for the playoff games of which we can organize the first one ourselves. Of course everything is still possible and we will do our utmost to make it to national champion of Germany!

The weeks at Papendal are very heavy. Kim pushes us to the limit with his varied training schedule. More than once when we start on Wednesday I wish it’s already Friday. A week before leaving for Kazan we take it a bit easier to give the body some time to recover. We still play the Dutch International in Wateringen. In the semifinals we lose from a Danish pair. Not exactly the result we had hoped for.

Easter Monday morning we depart from Schiphol to Moscow with final destination Kazan. This city, with over 1 million inhabitants, is located about 800 kilometers southeast of Moscow and organized last year’s Universiade. However, this week the city is the battleground of the European Badminton Championships. The fifth time I have qualified for this tournament. After a long day of traveling it is important to exercise the following day. On Tuesday, after some cardio and core stability training in the beautiful gym of the hotel, it’s time to go to the main hall. Our coaches Kim Nielsen and Rune Massing have prepared a training program which gives everyone a chance to get accustomed to the playing ground. I get an hour and ten minutes. The hall is large, high and quite drafty. The training is going well. In the evening, we analyze with Kim our opponents in the first round. We determine our strategy. I feel ready for the first match: Wednesday morning versus an English pair.

At half past ten we may enter the court which is covered by Badminton Europe TV. I am a little tense. We win the toss and we choose to start on the head wind side. We pop out of the starting blocks and win the first game by 21-8. In the second game we are on the” difficult” side. The English change their tactics, they seek the net to force us to lift. Till 16-16 it’s an equal battle but then we score five consecutive points and win the match. I’m relieved! Our masseur Gerrit has come along to Kazan. Great! He gives me a solid treat and after that I have the rest of the day off.

The opponents in the second round are Welshmen. There is nothing to be found on YouTube about them so there is nothing to analyze. We do discuss some individual points so we still have some guidance for the match. We are the second match after 10.00 am, a pleasant time. The game starts quite uneasy. Although we are leading all the time we do not feel comfortable. We waste four game points and we even lose this first game.
Also, at the start of the second game, we still have problems to take a lead. They play well, but we also know that they can’t maintain this level till the end of the second game. We get opportunities and continue to work hard. Slowly but steadily we take control of the match. In game 2 and 3, we win with large scores, but we really had to fight for it! On to the quarterfinals! Again, a well-deserved massage and then off to the hotel. In the evening I go back to the hall to watch some games, but I’m going away in time to prepare for tomorrow’s match.

Friday, April 25! The day of the quarter-finals, the day that we can score a medal. Once before at the European Championships 2010 in Manchester I played a quarterfinal. Then of the men’s doubles which we lost. Today I remember how I felt before that match. I ‘m pretty tense but focused. After breakfast I go to the training hall for a light workout. The feeling is good. In the afternoon we analyze our opponents again with our coach Kim. We play against the Russian pair Durkin / Vislova . They performed very well in the first two rounds and apparently they are in great shape. While analyzing we find some interesting points to reckon with and to keep in mind during the encounter. Then I go back to the hotel room and I skype with my parents. Although I see them up-side-down because of a setting problem it is nice to speak to them. It brings me some tranquility. I have a shower, brush my teeth and get the bus to the hall. Before I get there I start feeling hungry again. What’s this? I’ve just eaten! We are now about an hour before the game, but should I have to go on court feeling hungry? I run to the canteen of the hall and order a light pasta with some vegetables. After this meal I am ready for the warming-up! Meanwhile my nerves made way for an adrenaline rush. We may enter the court.

The first game is a rather equal battle. We are 13-15 behind when we get the chance to take and hold the lead. We win the first game. In the second game it is the other way round. From a score of 8-8 we are and stay behind all the time and we lose by 16-21. The third game, it will be all or nothing! Again we face an arrears at 7-10 but we come back by winning the last four points before the interval. Our coaches dot the i’s and cross the t’s and immediately we grab two more points. The Russians fight back and we have to allow them a 13-13 score. Every now and then Kim calls from the baseline “Close the gap”. He wants me to stay close behind Samantha because the Russians don’t play up too much and if we stand side by side we have a better coverage of the net. This tactic works out well and we score four points in a row. It turns out to be the deciding set, because the Russians don’t really get a chance anymore. We arrive at 19-14 and then 20-17. We lose the first matchpoint but the second one is home. The hall is dead silent, but we go bonkers. I have not seen the pictures yet, but I believe I have ran where ever I could run. I was as happy as could be. We give each other a hug, shake hands with opponents and officials and hug the coaches and masseur Gerrit! We have just secured a medal at the European Championships. It’s great to get congratulations from international colleague players and coaches. Everyone refers to Samantha’s injury and tells me that this win is so very well deserved. I radiate joy! On Gerrit’s massage table I finally settle down a bit. Back at the hotel I read all the posts, I skype a few times and finally I fall asleep with a big smile on my face, remembering the best day of my entire badminton career so far.

Saturday, April 26, I wake up with an unpleasant feeling. I have a cold and my stomach is playing up. I eat a little bit, but go right back into bed. In the afternoon we have a meeting with the coaches to analyze the first seeded Danes Fischer Nielsen/Pedersen, our opponents in the semi-finals. Obviously we are the underdog but also this pair has a few weaknesses. After the analysis Rune Massing tells us that we have to take into account that we may have to fly home that same evening when we lose and thus miss the medal ceremony on Sunday. Our visa expire at midnight on the 26th and in Russia you really do not want to get trouble. Rune has been busy all night and day to try and find a way out but it doesn’t look good. There aren’t many options left. My heart sinks into my boots. This can’t be true! We go back to our rooms with the instruction to focus on the match to come. Easier said than done.
Just before we leave for the hall we get the message that they found a solution and that we can stay. Our visa have been extended till the 29th. At least one burden less but I still feel not good at all.
The match begins and in no time we are facing a 0-9 arrears. Pedersen’s service is superb. When we score our first point we get applause from the spectators. It makes us laugh.
Eventually we still play quite some nice rallies, but obviously the Danes are a size too big. We lose the semi-finals, but win a bronze medal. The first mixed doubles medal in 12 years for The Netherlands. In the evening I thank the coaches and masseur for their outstanding and very professional guidance this week in which I, as a player, was once again very well prepared for the matches I had to play. In my already pretty long badminton career this is by far the best guided tournament week ever! Rune and Kim are a twofoldness. It shows and you feel it when you are on court. To be able to perform this is of great importance for a player!

Sunday, April 27. The day of the finals. I still do not feel well, but the thought that I will be on the stand later that day keeps me going. In the afternoon I watch the finals. It’s especially nice to see the Russians win the men’s doubles. A great achievement to win a championship in your home country. After this final match the medal ceremonies are scheduled and we are the first to take the stand. I am so very proud when I see the Dutch flag hoisted between three Danish flags. It’s a wonderful moment! After the ceremony we take a lot of pictures and talk with some people. With a wonderful feeling we go back to the hotel. At night we fly to Istanbul and from there back home where we arrive around 2:00 PM. At the airport we are met by photographer Rene Lagerwaard, his girlfriend Marije and dog Bobby. We make some nice pictures and that’s how we conclude the most intense, most tiring, most emotional but also the most amazing week of my badminton career (so far). This I will never forget and I mean never!

all medallists

bronze medal

the bronze team

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Post a comment

SPAM test: maak s.v.p. de rekensom af