EL PAIS is in Indonesia for a week, with the Olympic champion, the only European in the ‘top ten’ women in the world, admired by public and rivals aike and who now faces a serious knee injury.
“Berapa lama ke Istora? [How much time to Istora?] “Asks Carolina Marín, who looks nervous, to the taxi driver. It is 6 pm on Monday, January 21 in Jakarta and at 7 pm she has one of the fields in the pavilion reserved for her first training before the tournament. “I’m going to die, we’re never going to get there! What I don’t control and what doesn’t depend on me make me real nervous, “she says. It sounds premonitory … Two days later, on the first day of the tournament, the tire of the taxi that takes it to the pavilion, is punctured. Nowhere to stop and change it; the taxi driver holds 1.5 km with the busted tire. There are five and a half kms from the Gran Meliá hotel, where the Olympic champion is staying, to the Istora Stadium. But the endless traffic in the Indonesian capital turns any trip into an odyssey. To get anywhere, even if it is less than five kms away, it is better to plan for journey of an hour, hour and a half. Being a pedestrian here is a risky sport. There are no sidewalks, the open sewage every three meters fill the shoulders with water and mud. Finding a crosswalk is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Cars and motorcycles occupy the lanes as best considered and without apparent standards.
“You have to turn around and turn left!”, Indicates, again in Indonesian, Carolina Marin to the driver. Where have you learned it? “On my own; and that’s why I have lost a lot because the players with whom I used to talk on WhatsApp have already retired, “she answers. She’s been out of Spain since the beginning of December. First she was in China (where she traveled to sign a sponsorship contract with Bi Yuan, a business holding company), then India and Malaysia. Christmas was spent in India, in the Premier Badminton League, a competition in which the best teams make an auction to sign the great players. “A video call with my parents on December 25 and ready …”, she says. She has six days left in Indonesia before ending the Eastern tour and returning to Madrid. She never suspected that she would go home on crutches and a broken anterior cruciate ligament. A bad movement in the final left her out of combat and will keep her seven months away from the fields that she loves so much.
“I’ve got an Asian face and everything,” jokes Carolina, that Monday January 21. In Asia, especially in Indonesia and in India, Carolina is a mass phenomenon (53% of its followers on Facebook are Indian and 18% on Instagram are Indonesian). “Here badminton is what in Spain is football, basketball or tennis. Indonesia is the country where I like to play the most because of how they live this sport and because of the enthusiasm that exists. You’re going to hallucinate this week [she warns the journalist]! Normally, in a match you do not start playing until everyone is silent in the stands, here it is when there is the most noise that you begin to play. It is amazing, it’s as if there were 8,000 ultras, “she explains. And, indeed, the noise is deafening.
Dark circles denote tiredness. In the middle of the night, she arrived from Malaysia and at 11 am she is already in the hotel gym. Carolina is losing her patience as the taxi cannot reach the stadium on time. She has the field reserved for just an hour for herself and the first contact before the tournament is essential. “As there is a lot of humidity and heat in the Asian stadiums, it really affects the flight of the shuttlecock. It weighs so little [less than 5 grams] that it’s very easily influenced. That’s why my game changes in this type of tournaments; the first contact with the shuttelcock allows us to have good control of the match, “she explains.
‘Selfies’ and Ovations
In Jakarta, they idolize her. “Marín, Marín!” They shout at the exit of the facilities while they surround her to ask her for selfies. And that’s how it is every day after each game. Inside, it is an ovation every time the speakers announce that she is walking to the field. “Please, please, I’m pregnant” shouts one woman, who can not get to the front line, to get Carolina’s attention and take a picture. In the stadium there is a prayer area. Those who do not queue for autographs, queue for prayer. “My family name is written on my shirt and tracksuit, that’s why they shout Marín and not Carolina”, explains the Spaniard. In Jakarta she has her biggest fan – they all know her -: she is Adhe and she is 39 years old. She met Carolina through Facebook at her beginning and she has saved her on her phone as “My lil’sister Caro” and there is a picture of the two of them together in the background. She is the only one that Carolina allows access to the area reserved for players. She never misses a match of mine and even talks to my mother …” says Marín.
In Indonesia, badminton is a national sport. The country has 250 million inhabitants and an incalculable number of licenses. Of its 30 Olympic medals, 19 are in badminton. The first golds that were won in the debut of this sport in the Games (Barcelona 92) were won by two Indonesians: Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma. “The club system is the key to identifying phenomena in a country with so many inhabitants. The best clubs are very competitive, well financed and always in search of new talent, “explains Christian Hadinata, director of the Indonesian association of badminton, and historic doubles player. There are two types of clubs: some will prepare the athletes for excellence; others are dedicated to the training and promotion of badminton.
In Spain, according to the latest available data, there are 7,789 licenses. There is no club system that helps players to emerge. Neither a competition system that allows competitiveness. Marín trains with boys in the CAR. “To measure herself against the best, Carol has had to go out. In traditional badminton countries there are national circuits, in Spain Carol almost never played it because it did not make sense [because of the low level]; she had to go outside very soon to play on the international circuit, “explains Anders Thomsen, one of her two coaches. “In Indonesia it’s different. Years ago I came to the national center a couple of weeks to train to develop my skills with the help of good players and good sparring partners. The level is very high and the difference is brutal. Here I trained with the girls, I was better than them but as there were many we could rotate. But the boys no, they really beat me “, says the Spanish.
The fact that a 25-year-old girl from Huelva is an Olympic champion, three times world champion and four times European champion and has knocked down the Asian empire (China and Korea are other makers of badminton champions with 41 and 19 Olympic medals, respectively). Coming from a country without badminton tradition, Caro is the closest thing to a miracle. Her amazing results are based on very hard work, stubbornness, enormous effort, much sacrifice and immeasurable dedication.
“There is no more to it than that, I don’t believe in talent,” says the Spaniard. As Seve with Pedreña did in golf, Carolina has put Huelva and Spain on the world map of badminton. “I’m not really aware of it. It was impossible to imagine anything like this. In fact, I did not know that I was going to dedicate myself to badminton as I am doing now; it started as just a hobby, “she explains. The surprise that was initially generated in the international badminton circuit has given way to admiration. “Where is Marín, where is Marín? “Exclaimed a group of girls from one of the Djarum clubs. “We like her for her fighting spirit,” they say. “She’s quick on her legs and in her head. It is very good for the world of badminton that a country without tradition like Spain has an Olympic champion, it’s an example of how hard work can turn into success, “says Hadinata sitting on a stool in the middle of heat hotter than in a sauna.
“The first World Cup that Carolina won  was her first major international championship. She had not won any super-series before and there were many comments from coaches from other countries: ‘Well, she was lucky’. In 2015, when she won the All England – the badminton Wimbledon, the most difficult tournament to win – and again the World Cup, people started to say: ‘Maybe it’s not luck’. It was a fact that Carolina was the best. The surprise then turned into admiration, “says Anders. In her team are, in addition to the 35 year old Danish are Fernando Rivas (first coach), Ernesto García (assistant coach in charge of video analysis), Diego Chapinal, Nacho Sarria and Carlos Santos (physiotherapists), Guillermo Sánchez (physical trainer) , María Martínez (psychologist) and Ignacio Paramio (press officer).
The Team’s “Boss”
At night, during dinner in the hotel restaurant, the atmosphere is relaxed. There is no talk of badminton or the tournament. The analyzes will come later. “Boss, you’re not helping me to look for a girlfriend … Let’s see if you will help me, “Nacho, her physio, says. Masseurs and technicians take turns traveling. In the most important events – World, European and Games – both coaches are usually there. In the other tournaments, only one is present, so that the rest of the badminton team of the CAR Madrid is not left alone. For all, Carolina is the boss. It is what best defines her winning personality and her ability to excel.
The plans are adjusted last minute and according to the tournament schedule. The Spaniard knows what time she will play no more than 12 hours in advance. Today is Tuesday 22 and she rushes to a shopping mall to buy a data card because her first game is at 9 am the next day. That means waking up at 6 am (workouts start at 11 pm). There is no time for shopping. It’s time to stretch and analyze the opponent. “I do not usually buy data cards when I travel abroad: the hotel’s wifi is enough because I prefer to disconnect and focus. But here I need info on the traffic, which is crazy, and to order taxis via apps, “she says lying on the stretcher that the physio has set up in her room. During the hour and a half of treatment, Carolina relaxes and jokes about the taxi drivers strike in Madrid and how to flirt on Tinder.
Hotel bellboys ask daily how was her previous match and who will she play against the next day. “Tomorrow we also win”, they smile. The waiters greet her with familiarity. The hotel has its own badminton team and shows up in the hall one afternoon just to take a group picture with Carolina. Meliá is one of her sponsors. They take an hour to record a small video while drinking a ginger and carrot juice. “Luck smiles at me”, is written on Caro’s T-shirt. Not quite this time in Jakarta, where she ended up crying in pain with a serious injury. And, as a result, she now will have to tackle her hardest battle ever.
Arriving in Bekasi – 18 kilometers east of Jakarta – can take up to two hours. Here is one of the Solibad projects (a solidarity organization founded by Raphaël Sachetat, a French photographer, sponsored by, among others, Carolina Marín). In Indonesia, Solibad co-sponsors 10 badminton teams and guarantees equipment, training and tournament registration for around 200 young people. It also co-sponsors libraries and aid for schooling. Marín donated them 1% of her prizes last year. “It seems to me little and this year I will give more,” she says. In Bekasi, hundreds of families live in wooden shacks. The rains have filled the accesses with mud and the garbage attracts thousands of flies. The first time I arrived here was early morning and I saw a man carrying dozens of cardboards on his back. “They go to look for waste at the supermarkets, five kilometers away, bring them back and when they have enough they sell them to the factories, “says Miss Dom, one of Solibad’s Indonesian projects’ consultant. The one carrying the cardboards is Damang, Nata’s dad. Nata plays badminton with the Solibad team and, thanks to this, he is now working with Decathlon. “With the salary, I have been able to buy a van for my father so he can carry the garbage,” he says.