Denmark vs. Asia
Badminton is one of the few sports where Denmark has continuously been among the world’s best nations for decades. The unique position was confirmed last week at the World Mixed Team Championships – the Sudirman Cup – in Finland, where Denmark was the only European nation that qualified to the quarterfinals, where it turned into a 2-3 defeat against the later World Champions China.
Denmark is among the World Championships favorites
The unique position among the world’s best nations will also be confirmed next week, when Denmark participate in the World Men’s Team Championships – the Thomas Cup – and the World Women’s Team Championships – the Uber Cup – at homecourt in Aarhus. The women’s team is seeded for a quarter final, but it will be difficult to get there. However, there are several younger female players in Danish badminton with potential for international top level, including Mia Blichfeldt, Line Christophersen and Alexandra Bøje, but the level among the female players in these years is significantly lower than among the male top players, especially in the singles. I think that Denmark has really good chances of winning the Thomas Cup – for only the second time in history.
Denmark as the only non-Asian winner of the Thomas Cup
Former Danish top players, such as Jørn Skaarup, Finn Kobberø, Jørgen Hammergaard Hansen, Erland Korps and Svend Pri, already achieved impressive international results in the 1950s and 1960s at the All England tournament, which until the first official World Championships in 1977, was considered the unofficial World Championships. Denmark played their way to the first Thomas Cup final, which was held in 1948. The final against Malaysia was lost by 1-8 and subsequently there were no less than 7 further final defeats (1955, 1964, 1973, 1979, 1996, 2004 and 2006), before Denmark in 2016 for the first time won the Thomas Cup after a final victory of 3-2 over Indonesia. The triumph caused understandably large cheers among players, coaches and leaders in Danish badminton, as it was the first time a non-Asian nation won the Thomas Cup.
Four singles among the world’s 20 best
Only five nations have previously won the Thomas Cup: Indonesia (13), China (10), Malaysia (5), Japan and Denmark. And it will also be among these five nations that the winner of the 2021 Thomas Cup will be found. China and Malaysia do not have the strength of the past, so my final favorites are Japan and Denmark with Indonesia as the outsider. The Danish men’s national team’s greatest strength is 3 singles of world class: Viktor Axelsen, who has won both Olympic and WC gold medal, and the two Aarhusians: Anders Antonsen and Rasmus Gemke. The latter has unfortunately been injured up to the Thomas Cup, but then the veteran Hans Kristian Vittighus will be a perfect replacement as the 3rd single. The four top players are currently ranked No. 2, 3, 12 and 20 in the World rankings, which no other nation can match. The two Danish doubles also have a high international level, but most of the doubles from the Asian top nations have – unfortunately – an even higher level. Up to the Thomas Cup, several of the Danish doubles players have been injured, so the composition of the doubles will probably only be decided during the Thomas Cup. But what exactly is the explanation for the fact that Danish badminton can still develop world-class players among the male players. Let me highlight three topics.
The badminton hall as a unique training environment
Firstly, Danish badminton has always had a strong culture and many traditions, which have unfolded in the more than 700 clubs that form the foundation for the international top results. Many of the clubs have facilities specially designed for badminton. And then the badminton halls are usually available 24 hours – 365 days a year. Badminton halls, such as the hall in Godthåbsgade in the center of Odense, where Viktor Axelsen has spent lots of hours with training and social club life or the hall on Dyrehavevej in Aarhus, where childhood friends Antonsen and Gemke, have had their “badminton upbringing”, have been optimal talent development environments for many youth players. One of my explanations for the current difference in the quality of female and male top players is that the number of boys under the age of 18 who are club players is significantly higher than the number of girls, namely 23,692 vs. 11,162. More girls must simply be attracted – and not least retained as juniors – in the fascinating sport, if Denmark is to once again develop female players who can win WC medals.
World-class elite coaching education
Secondly, the quality of coaches in Danish badminton, both at club, district and national level – in relation to many other sports in Denmark – has always been very high. Education of children and youth coaches as well as the involvement of former top players as coaches is absolutely crucial for the development of the players’ competencies. As one of the latest initiatives, Badminton Denmark, led by sports director Jens Meibom, has just offered a new elite coach education, where new coaches will be included in the training of national team players at the National Elite Training Center (NETC) and where each new coach will have one of the existing national coaches as a mentor . In addition, the new coaches must participate in international tournaments in Europe and Asia, i.a. to gain competencies to develop players to international top level.
NETC – continuity and role models
Thirdly, back in the late 1980s, Badminton Denmark established the National Elite Training Center in Brøndbyhallen, where daily training combined with strength training, dietary guidance, mental training, prevention and treatment of injuries has been to the mutual joy and benefit of all. The training environment and culture has been – and continues to be – completely unique with role models such as Morten Frost, Poul Erik Høyer, Kirsten Larsen, Peter Gade, Camilla Martin, Tine Baun, Mathias Boe, Carsten Mogensen, Joackim Fischer, Jan Ø. Jørgensen, Kamilla Rytter Juhl, Christinna Pedersen and many, many others. It is both sad and extremely worrying if Danish top players opt out of NETC as a daily training environment. For that reason, I also hope that Viktor Axelsen – rather today than tomorrow – “returns home” from Qatar and contributes to the further development of new talents with international potential. I look forward to following the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the Thomas and Uber Cup at Ceres Arena next weekend. It is definitely not commonplace that world-class badminton can be experienced “live” only a few hundred meters away from home. And then a new Danish World Cup triumph may await at the end of Stadion Allé.
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