Indonesia at long last claimed Olympic gold in badminton. Intense preparation and mental strength were the key to success for the Tontowi-Liliyana mixed team.
FROM the beginning, coach Richard Mainaky knew the kind of strategy Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir needed to succeed at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Rexy Mainaky, Richard's brother who heads the Development and Achievement Division of the Indonesian Badminton Association (PP PBSI), repeatedly reminded him of what was needed for the pair to win; for Liliyana, to give more flat shots just over the net; for Tontowi, to chase and strike the shuttle with powerful smashes from the back.
"Right now Tontowi is really good with back shots. His offensive is lethal," Richard said over the phone from Rio, Brazil, last Thursday.
In the field, however, conditions can often turn unpredictable. Although the Indonesian mixed double pair managed to breeze through to the final without losing a single game, at the peak of the final face-off with the Malaysian pair Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying, the two seemed to lose focus and forget their strategy.
After succeeding in dictating opponent moves in the first game, winning by 21-14, the two came out tense in the second round. Richard said his team was 'blindsided'. Liliyana was so tense she lost her play pattern.
The 30-year-old athlete said she was baited into rush moves for a while. "Although I had played in the Olympics before, there is this burden you feel. Pressures are high, especially because we were the only ones left and it was Independence Day," she said in the PBSI's press release. "We were overwhelmed."
Luckily, the coach accompanied them from the sidelines throughout the game. Butet, as Liliyana is affectionately known, also had a partner, Tontowi, aka Owi, who kept her spirits high. "Owi said, 'It's OK, Ci, I'm ready to back you from the back. Just relax and guard the front. Your front shots are superior'," Liliyana quoted her partner as saying. "Owi's words made me enthusiastic and confident."
They were finally able to return to their own game plan to win the second game 21-12. Their gold medal complemented the two silver medals previously won by Indonesian weightlifting athletes. "I'm relieved, proud and happy," Liliyana said. "We owed a gold medal (to Indonesia) in London. Now we have paid it in full."
Liliyana was referring to the pair's defeat at the 2012 London Olympics. Tontowi and Liliyana were Indonesia's last medal hopefuls in the mixed double semifinal at the London Olympics. But the two were beaten by China's Xu Chen-Ma Jin. Later, they also lost to a Danish pair for the bronze medal.
Richard said he was confident the Tontowi-Liliyana pair could win the gold after they beat the top-seeded Chinese pair Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei in the semifinal. "Others also felt Tontowi-Liliyana's performance in the semifinal was superb," he said.
Such is the fruit of the preparations they undertook after training camp at Kudus, Central Java, on July 11-17. Richard recounted how they made the situation on camp as close as possible to those that would be found in Rio.
After Kudus, all mixed double players and coaches spent 10 days in Jakarta recovering and preparing for the departure to Brazil. During the training, Richard's wife helped entertain the athletes by preparing woku fish or garo rica chicken, both Manado dishes. "My wife cooked these dishes and brought them to Cipayung several times," he said.
Liliyana had previously won mixed doubles titles at the Asian Games and World Championships, as well as a line of prestigious Superseries trophies. Now, she has topped the cake with Olympic gold icing.
She and Tontowo are also poised to claim a prize of Rp5 billion from the government. But it is not the financial rewards that makes them feel special; rather, its winning gold medal on Independence Day. "I'm speechless. I feel extraordinary. I dedicate this medal to the Indonesian Republic's Independence Day," Tontowi said.
History of Indonesia's Olympic Badminton Gold
BADMINTON matches first debuted in the 1992 Olympics and Indonesia won the gold medal in the very first contest. Below is the list of Indonesia's Olympic gold medals.
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