Thomas Kihlstrom occupies a special place in badminton history. The Swede, a star of the Seventies and Eighties, is the only male player to have won World Championships medals in three categories – no mean feat, for the World Championships have been through 25 editions.
Kihlstrom won bronze in men’s singles and men’s doubles in the inaugural edition in 1977 and mixed doubles gold in 1983.
Kihlstrom, as one of the medallists from the inaugural edition, was one of the special invitees at the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 last week in Basel. Excerpts from an interview with BWF:
What struck you about the action at the World Championships this time?
This is the first in a long time I’ve seen the World Championships. I believe the improvement is really impressive. I like the play, I like the standard, it has upgraded, especially in the ladies. It’s nice to see. But there’s still room for improvement.
You were one of the few players to excel in all three event categories…
Yes. Now they don’t seem to… but of course it’s a lot harder. From round 1, you have to fight. You can see that some of the top players lost in the first round here. So the standard overall is much higher.
I was quite fit. In my case, the most impressive feat was not the World Championships which I won, but the Japan Open five times – two in singles (1977, 1982) and two in doubles (1983, 1984) and one in mixed (1983).
(At one edition) We started men’s singles at 10 O’clock, then 12 O’clock, then 2 and then 4. So we had four singles matches in one day. Two days later it was the men’s finals. It was hard to play a match every two hours. So even if the game has developed tremendously, we also did well in our circumstances. But I like the standard now, it’s more professional.
Have any of the elements of the game changed or disappeared since your time?
It’s difficult to say. The only thing I notice is that the intent to play not so many drop shots or net shots. They play more into the court. In my mind, I think you should use all the four corners. But sometimes (now) they play more into the court. My strategy was to play the four corners. Every time I was under pressure, I would put the ball close to the net or back of the court so they couldn’t attack. But it’s a matter of taste, you know.
How did you manage your training time between the three categories?
My father was an excellent coach. He was really ahead of his time. I learnt a lot from that. The methods they’re doing now, I did in the Seventies. It’s a mental game. My father taught me a lot of good strokes. He didn’t play badminton, but some people are born to be a coach. It’s not the same to be a player and a coach. I started when I was 10 and he trained me for ten years.
My father taught me all the tricks, all the shots. We spent hours training net shots. I was good at using all the four corners.
Sweden was a strong badminton nation in your time, but it isn’t any more. What do you believe is the reason?
It’s a sensitive question. Maybe we have been lacking good coaches in Sweden. But to be honest, it depends on the economy.
When you show results, you get television and newspapers and you get attention.
You can look at Denmark. They have a tradition of supporting badminton because they show results. They have sponsors who put in the money. Also now, people choose other sports like tennis, golf of whatever because there’s more money.
I think it will change because badminton is a fantastic game.
Of your many victories, which ones stand out?
One of the semifinals where we beat Tjun Tjun and Wahjudi, who had won six All England titles. I don’t know how many titles I won, but it’s a lot. I really like my performances at the Japan Open.
We had a lot of difficulties in singles with the Danes, the Indonesians and the Chinese. (But) Maybe we had more fun, we enjoyed the game more.