Growing up in the Spanish city of Huelva, much before badminton would become her being, countryman Rafael Nadal was a big inspiration for Carolina Marin. The tennis legend continues to be that figure for badminton’s global star, not merely because he has those 22 Grand Slam titles or the stomach for a fight at 36.
“That’s what everyone sees on their television screens—he wins a lot of competitions; he is probably the best athlete in tennis,” Marin said. “For me, though, he is more an inspiration as a person than an athlete. I always focus more on the person.”
As a person, few in the world of sport have shown the mental fortitude in overcoming physical adversities to get back up and ruling again the way Nadal has. Marin—and both her knees—can now relate to her idol.
It’s only since December last year, Marin said, that she hasn’t felt any pain in her knees. Prior to that from the start of 2019, both her knees at different periods had the ACL torn, shattering her mind and reducing her body to training on crutches at a point. This was an Olympic champion, three-time world champion, multiple-time European champion and the world’s best female shuttler at the absolute peak of her prowess. Marin is still all of that, minus the last, coming back from the two knee injuries, which, although have stopped her in her tracks, not swayed her from conquering the pinnacle again at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“It makes you grow, these adversities,” Marin said in a virtual interaction with select international media in an event to renew her agreement for the global expansion of LaLiga, which will also support the shuttler until the 2024 Games.
“It’s an obstacle, certainly, and I have managed to overcome that obstacle. I see myself very capable of being very competitive until the Games in Paris in 2024. So the objective is clear: get that gold medal in Paris.”
That was also her clear objective for the Tokyo Olympics, as the defending champion she had beaten her great rival PV Sindhu in the 2016 Rio Games final. She appeared well on course, winning four of the five tournaments heading into the postponed Games in 2021. Just then, the southpaw tore her ACL and both menisci in her left knee. The painful halt came barely months after she had recovered from the ACL tear in her right knee, suffered in the 2019 Indonesia Masters final against Sania Nehwal that kept her away from the game for close to eight months.
Both those career-damaging knee injuries, and losing her father in July 2020 after an accident, couldn’t have been timed any worse for the Spaniard. Marin, however, eventually found the solace of looking at it from a slightly altered perspective.
“I’m very strong-headed that way,” she said. “When I started having injuries in my knee before Tokyo, I couldn’t achieve my objective and what I was preparing for. In the end, because of what had happened before—the injury, the loss of my dad—it made me say to myself, ‘Well, I’ve only got three years to wait for the next Games. And because I haven’t achieved what I had set out to do (in Tokyo), I’m now going to prepare myself for Paris’.
“And today, the feeling I have about myself is very good, certainly better than last year. Because it is true that I had a year-and-a-half which were very difficult. My knee hasn’t allowed me to train as much as I would’ve liked. I haven’t been able to push myself as much as I wanted to. But from December last year up until now, I haven’t had any pain in my knee. I’ve gone back to enjoying playing badminton. And so I see myself being very competitive again.”
Marin won the European title upon return last year and made the final of the French Open. The world No. 7 has kicked off this season with a couple of quarter-final finishes at the Malaysia and India Open with another final to show at the Indonesia Masters. Gearing up for the All England Championships starting next week, Marin said she can now take “heavy workload that I couldn’t earlier” in training. And while Paris might be the end of the road, Marin’s mind is also at some key pit stops before that.
“I think about it (Olympics) by thinking about all the tournaments I have leading up to it. Because, in reality, a year-and-a-half isn’t that long. I’m now focussing more on the short term. But when we start focussing on the Olympics—which will be I think two months before it begins—that is when all my concentration, training and preparation will be towards that.”