Humanity’s love of sport is global and knows no boundaries and it transcends man-made national and cultural divisions. New sports star emerge every day and there are instances of men and women acquiring overnight fame. The excellence in sport encompasses some of the noblest human aspirations and qualities and those, who make their marks; become immortal. However, some societies and nations have larger involvement in sports than others. Spain is one such country, where people love sports more than in many other nations of the world. There have been famous Spaniards like Manuel Santana, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Fernando Alonso, Pau Gasol, Raul Gonzalez, Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Miguel Indurain, Sergio Garcia, Marta Dominguez and many others. These iconic sportsmen, however, belong to tennis, motor-sports, basketball, football, cycling, golf and athletics. Among them, counting the 2-time world badminton champion Carolina Marin is an oddity because, Spain, as a nation, has never been known to promote badminton, which has traditionally been considered as an Asian sport. Regardless, the 22-year old Marin is changing the age-old perception in Spain. She has single-handedly displayed undiminished courage in fighting her way to the top of world ranking among women badminton players. Branded as an accidental shuttler; Marin has surprised the world sports community in general and badminton lovers in particular.
During the warm-up at Indian Open Super-series at New Delhi in March 2015, people saw groups of players from different countries bunched together as they practiced and waited for the main event to get underway. The only exception was Carolina Marin, who didn’t have any compatriots and she had no choice but to practice with her coach Fernando Rivas behind a large Danish contingent. Here was a woman, whom no one knew two years ago. As a little child of 8 years, Marin herself had never heard of badminton and she dreamt of becoming a great flamenco dancer. It was just a twist of fate that changed the course of Marin’s life, when she visited a badminton court with one of her friends. Watching the action, Marin fell in love with badminton and that was the start of her now famous 14-year old journey.
Born as Carolina Maria Marin Martin in June 1993, it wasn’t all that easy for the Spanish girl since she couldn’t find support at grass root levels. Since badminton had never been a preferred sport in Spain, Marin’s supportive family arranged for her training in Thailand, Indonesia & Malaysia. Marin made full use of these stints and sharpened her game by developing an array of crafty badminton shots. In double-quick time, Marin scaled amazing heights and her rise from world no.15 in January 2014 and world no.8 in January 2015 to the current world to no.1 could only be regarded as a story made in dreams. During this period, Marin won the 2014 and 2015 World Championships and excelled in 2015. She won the prestigious All-England Championship and Super-series events at Australia, Malaysia, France and Hong Kong.
It all started in 2009, when Marin became the first Spanish badminton player to win a silver medal at European Junior Badminton Championship. Very soon in the European Under-17 Badminton Championship, Marin won the Gold. She grew in confidence as she stepped out of Spain and Europe to play highe-ranked players. In 2013, Marin earned the distinction of being the first ever Spanish badminton player; men or women, to win a Grand Prix Gold title in London. But the high point in Marin’s career came, when she defeated China’s world no.1 Li Xuerui in 2014 World Championship. Marin thus inscribed her name in history books by becoming only the third European and first ever Spanish female player to do so. This feat was earlier achieved by two Danish women; Lene Koppen in 1977 and Camilla Martin in 1999.
Year 2015 has been particularly good for Carolina Marin. She started as world’s no.8 player and kept moving up the ladder. The lethal lefthander won the prestigious All-England Championship in March 2015 by beating India’s Saina Nehwal in the final, which eventually turned out to be a game of wits. After losing the first game to Saina, the Spaniard came back with a smiling vengeance to take the next two. The victory propelled her to no.4 in the world and no.1 in Super-series race for the year-ending Dubai Finale. At India Open, Marin had an opportunity to overtake Li Xuerui as world no.1 but she lost to Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon in the semifinal. Marin won her maiden Super-series final, when she beat Li Xuerui once again in 2015 Malaysian Open. The unstoppable Spaniard won her second consecutive World Championship by defeating India’s Saina Nehwal in August 2015 and firmly established herself as someone, whose time had come. Afterwards, Marin recorded victories at Australian, French and Hong Kong Super-series tournaments. She is already world’s no.1 women’s singles player and transformed herself into a formidable foe for other top-ranked players.
Carolina Marin’s rise to the top reads like a fairytale story because even if she wanted Marin couldn’t find any close-ranked compatriots practicing with her. Since badminton in Spain is not as popular as other sports, Marin’s achievements become so much more creditable. Besides China, where the sport is hugely encouraged, South-East Asian nations like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong also have well developed training centers. Even in India, there are badminton academies, which provide world-class support for budding shuttlers. In Europe, Denmark and England have quality training centers, where players can hone their skills. But Marin is not lucky as no such facilities exist in Spain. There is one factor; however, that has given Marin’s badminton career a great boost. In Fernando Rivas, she has found a coach as committed to her cause as the player herself. Rivas has been trying to find areas of strengths for Marin to compensate for her unavoidable shortcomings. He works on her psychological, physical and tactical aspects of training and for the last eight years, Rivas’s association with Marin has worked wonders. Rivas is extremely talented and he guides Marin with a messianic zeal. The man is ambidextrous and stands on the opposite side with racquets in both hands. There is little doubt that Rivas is the brain behind Marin’s emergence as badminton World Champion. If Marin has been able to shock the world by winning two consecutive World Championships and piercing a big hole into the Asian dominance of badminton, some credit goes to Rivas. The guy has created a system of coaching that is vastly different from the traditional Chinese system. Rivas watches his ward with an iPad in his hand and compares the technical aspects of Marin and her opponent’s games with a video analysis. That is one strong reason how Marin has jumped from the 15th spot to no.1 in the world in less time than two years. Now it is not Saina Nehwal that the Chinese women fear; they simply don’t want to face Carolina Marin!