‘The Physical Level Has Gone Up’

Monday, April 22, 2019

In part two of the interview with Thomas Lund, mixed doubles winner at the World Championships in 1993 and 1995, he talks about the evolution of the game since the 1990s.

(Read part one here: Memories of Lausanne 1995)

Lund and Thomsen on way to winning the title.

You won the mixed doubles in Lausanne but yet you chose to drop the event and play men’s doubles instead…

(Sighs) I think it was… I mean, I had to choose one, right? You can always look back and say why did you choose men’s doubles… I obviously had been playing with Jon (Holst Christensen) for a long time and we had an interesting long run. I think we had done quite well, with a couple of silvers at the World Championships and won lots of tournaments. Maybe it was a big stupid, but you could say it was tickling us that the competitive level in men’s doubles was slightly higher than in mixed doubles, and we felt we needed to see how far we could go there.

But considering that you had dominated in mixed doubles…

Yes, still chose to go for that. It kind of felt… unfulfilled thing that we needed to do in men’s doubles. Having won various titles, in a more competitive category, we felt there was something we had to prove as we were runners-up twice.

So after winning the mixed doubles gold in Lausanne, you stopped playing that category?

Well, I played only men’s doubles leading up to the 1996 Olympics.

At the press conference after winning the mixed doubles gold, your partner and now wife Marlene Thomsen suggested she would consider your proposal if you went down on your knees?

(Laughs) Great tournament, huh?

Technically, how has the game changed in doubles?

Lund and Thomsen were unbeaten in the run-up to the World Championships.

I think over time we’ve seen there are different styles. The physical level has come up, which means whether it’s men’s doubles, women’s doubles or mixed doubles, the ability to play very offensive and powerful, (but) you still see defensive pairs in men’s doubles. So I think there’s a lot of the same styles, but everything in terms of the physical level, power, strength and so on has gone up, which has influenced the speed and the way the game is played, no doubt about it.

Did you have the same support systems in those days, with the physios and sports science?

Within those areas, that changed a lot in the 1990s. We had fairly good support systems, but we all learn. The more professional systems started to evolve a lot from around the 1990s. This was also connected to it becoming an Olympic sport. There was more support from national sport systems, not only the badminton federations. More money started coming in. We had physios, we had the most modern facilities for testing, medical, and so on, but it’s different from today, because it’s over 20 years ago. It’s better today, probably, but I wouldn’t say it wasn’t there. Badminton wasn’t behind significantly compared to other sports.

So it wasn’t a lack of medical knowledge that led to the injuries?

No, I wouldn’t say that. My legs were just not built in the way it was ideal. I’d struggled with knee injuries since I was 11 years old, even before I thought of becoming a professional badminton player. I had some weaknesses around my knees, which then influenced other injuries. So it wasn’t the training or the medical system that was responsible.

Clearly at that time, if you compare the generations, in the 1980s it started to become more professional, people training full-time. If you went back to the 1970s, people weren’t training full-time. That changed dramatically. When people start training more, injury risks also go up. So that meant that within badminton you accumulate knowledge of what to do and what not to do. A lot of knowledge was built during that period.

A collage published in World Badminton magazine on Thomas Stuer-Lauridsen’s injury at the World Championships in 1995.

There were sports that were ahead of badminton. At that time, there were not that many. Of course we learnt from others, but it was also by experiment and by pushing the borders. Players today also push the borders, but they do it based on a better knowledge platform, they listen to their coaches and advisors. Some push the bar and get better, but some make mistakes, like playing too many tournaments, putting on too much pressure, that kind of stuff.

Did the 1990s set the stage in terms of television coverage?

Definitely, there were loads of things that were changing. Obviously, the fact that badminton became an Olympic sport in 1992, being on the test programme in 1988. In 1992, it changed a lot, which also today shows how important our Olympic status is. It’s not only about the expectations about how to do things, but you also get support. Not only from the IOC, but the sports federations and governments. They have a higher focus. That’s where they dedicate most of their resources. For the national systems, they get a lot of support, so it is important for training, service for the players, host tournaments and so on. That gave us a platform to grow.