Indonesian legend Tony Gunawan talks about the development of badminton in America

Badminton News: It’s two different worlds in the space of two weeks for Tony Gunawan. The Indonesian-born men’s doubles legend who has now moved to the United States, winner of an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, was in Jeonju last month for the 2023 BWF Senior World Championships.

After winning his 45th men’s doubles, he was in Spokane on the opening day of the individual event of the 2023 BWF World Junior Championships to scout Yonex talent.

The experience in Jeonju was “fun,” he said, as he met old friends and rivals. He has not participated in international competitions since 2018, but he is very close to the sport; he had an academy and was on the pitch all week and often trained with his junior trainees.

This begs the question, what is the condition of junior badminton in the United States?

“The junior level is good, quite high,” Gunawan said without the slightest hesitation.

“Last year the United States was in the quarterfinals of the World Juniors and this time we finished in 10th place. There are a lot of good coaches in the United States, from India, from India , from Malaysia and China. So there are a lot of good coaches and a lot of clubs opening up.

The problem, Tony Gunawan explains, lies in the transition phase, when players go through junior level and move on to university, where they must choose between education and a playing career.

“When they move up to the senior level, they don’t stick to the sport. Most of them go to college. We don’t have a national team; we do not have a national training center. Once players enter college, it is difficult for them to participate in club practices. “So they have to choose, and it’s quite sad, because their level among juniors, in my opinion, is not far from that of other countries,” he said.

“It’s a numbers game. If you have 10 best players, you can compete against each other every day and push each other. Then you will have one or two that can show results. But if these 10 people are training alone, how much can you improve on your own, without anyone pushing you?

The exception was Beiwen Zhang, who managed to reach the top 10 purely through her own efforts. However, as Tony Gunawan stated, the case is different.

“His level when he arrived in the United States was already high. It’s like me, when I moved to the States, I was a former number one player and I trained because I knew what to do.

For the United States, there was no better moment to capture than Gunawan and Howard Bach winning the gold medal at the World Championships on home soil in 2005. However, whatever the reason, the occasion escaped them. Why is the impact not so pronounced?

“You shouldn’t ask me!” Gunawan laughs.

“I’m just a player; I had left Indonesia and came here to study, and then I played again because the World Championship was in the United States. My preparation only lasts one year. The victory was therefore very surprising. It’s a shame that this victory didn’t come to fruition.”

However, Gunawan is excited about the long-term results.

“When I came in 2002, we only had three clubs in Southern California and two clubs in Northern California,” he said.

“Right now we have five to six clubs in Southern California and 15 in Northern California. There are a lot of clubs opening, a lot of coaches are coming from Asia, that’s why the junior level in the United States is increasing.”

“There are now more participants. When I arrived, at the junior level, there were 60 to 80 children, but now there are 600. Previously, it only took place on weekends, but now it takes place from Tuesday to Sunday. So it’s good, it’s growing well.

“Where the players go (at the elite level), if they can make a living as badminton players… that’s the part we haven’t solved yet.”

Tony Gunawan is considering the possibility of university scholarships which could encourage players to continue playing badminton.

“Currently, at university, there are no scholarships for badminton. Not yet. So I hope for the future,” concluded the 2000 Olympic champion with Candra Wijaya.

Article Tag: Tony Gunawan, Candra Wijaya, Indonesia, United States

Cheryl Tenny

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