Isis Poon, Olympian

The badminton player talks to us about her shuttler life and competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics

isis_poon

When I was a kid, I dreamt of being a lawyer or a teacher – characters I often saw in TV dramas. My father was a shuttler, but he didn’t allow me to play badminton. I was very thin and he worried about whether I could handle the training.

I first played badminton on a sports fun day with my father and his colleagues. My father saw my passion and potential and I finally embarked on formal training when I was a Primary 4 student. I joined the Hong Kong Badminton team in 2008.

After completing my public exams, I had to decide whether to be a full-time shuttler or keep studying. It was an easy decision – you don’t get many chances to live a life like this in Hong Kong.

Athletic life at the Hong Kong Sports Institute is ordered: six days of training a week with two sessions each day. Our meals are specially designed by dietitians. In our leisure time we do normal things, like meeting friends, going to restaurants and watching TV dramas. Sometimes I train in Aberdeen. I enjoy taking the boat to Ap Lei Chau afterwards for a bowl of fish meat with lettuce, or sharing a table of freshly cooked seafood with my team.

I am a womens doubles player. Unlike in other countries, in Hong Kong, every shuttler is trained as singles player first. I paired up with my partner, Tse Ying Suet, later. Tse’s style of play is more aggressive while I am a soft player. We’ve known each other since primary school. We are partners and friends who share everything.

In 2014, we separated from each other to work on our own skills. At the same time I hit a bottleneck and stopped improving. I blamed myself for this – I felt stuck, like I’d lost my spark. This idleness continued until I embarked on a PE degree at the Chinese University.

Tse and I teamed up again for the 2016 Rio Olympics. After a year apart, we had both become more mature and confident. However, I sustained an injury to my knee at the Macau open, just nine months before Rio. I cried on court at the time, not because of the pain, but because I felt we could have won that game.

The doctor said the recovery would take nine months, but I managed to get back on court in six. I grew up a lot after the injury. I discovered that I’m stronger than I thought. Now I have my sights set on a world ranking.

London 2012 was my first Olympic experience. I just tried to get through it. This year in Rio I was calmer and able to enjoy the games. Brazilian audiences are passionate and active in supporting their teams. In the Olympic village, I met a lot of foreign athletes – it was a great chance to see different cultures and sportsmanship.

I would rate myself 8 out of 10 at this Olympic games. I did my best to use my well-trained skills and tactics while still recovering from my knee injury. We didn’t win but at least we gave our competitors a good game and can hold our heads high.

My idol is Lin Dan, a singles badminton player from China. He is a two-time Olympic champion and five-time World champion. No matter in what games or against which players Lin Dan is competing, he does his best and is gracious and respectful.

The challenge of being a shuttler is that it is not just about your skills and ability; the performance of your competitors also matters. Before every match, I watch videos of my competitors’ previous competitions to understanding their style of play and uncover their weaknesses. Managing your mentality during a game is also challenging. When you are in the underdog position, you need to hide your fear and keep going; when are you are leading the game, you need to stay calm.

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