Denmark's newest shuttling star Mia Blichfeldt eyes top-10 breakthrough
Mia Blichfeldt is the latest world-class badminton player to roll off the Danish production line.
Over the years, the north European nation has consistently provided the biggest threat to Asia's domination of the sport.
Denmark actually completed a famous double at the first World Championships in Malmo, Sweden in 1977 with Flemming Delfs and Lene Køppen claiming the singles titles.
Morten Frost blazed a trail in the 1980s, becoming world number one before coaching the next generation of Danish shuttlers including 1996 Olympic champion Poul-Erik Høyer Larsen - now president of the BWF - and 1997 world champion Peter Rasmussen.
Høyer Larsen makes history for Denmark in Atlanta
Høyer Larsen makes history for Denmark in AtlantaPoul-Erik Høyer Larsen defeated Dong Jiong in the men's singles final at Atlanta 1996 to become the first non-Asian player to win an Olympic badminton title.
The likes of Sydney 2000 runner-up Camilla Martin and Rio 2016 bronze medallist Viktor Axelsen have kept up the nation's proud reputation in singles with both winning world titles (in 1999 and 2017 respectively).
Christinna Pedersen has two Olympic medals in doubles, including silver at Rio 2016 with long-time partner Kamilla Rytter Juhl, while Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen are also Olympic silver medallists.
Now Blichfeldt is hoping to add her name to the Danish roll of honour.
Aged just 16, the Solrød native's win secured Denmark the European team title in Basel, Switzerland in 2014.
Then came the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, but she went out in the group stages after a defeat to future world number one Akane Yamaguchi.
After struggling with injury, Blichfeldt reached number 15 in the rankings a year ago before claiming victory at the Dutch Open.
And in February she beat compatriot, 2015 European Games winner Line Kjærsfeldt, in the final of the Spain Masters for her first BWF Super 300 triumph.
With Olympic champion Carolina Marin facing a race against time to defend her world title in August after cruciate knee ligament surgery, Blichfeldt could be Europe's best chance of a medal in the women's singles in Basel.
Olympic Channel caught up with the 21-year-old in Minsk where she is competing at the European Games.
She told us who she admires in and out of badminton, why she loves morning runs when she's abroad, and about her goals for the future.
Olympic Channel: Why are Danish players so good at badminton?
Mia Blichfeldt: We have a good badminton environment with a lot of clubs all around the country, and for many years we've had many top players and we've found a good system to do it. And we have a good support system.
OC: How did you take up the sport?
MB: Actually, I was going for dance with my best friend and then she started playing badminton and I thought it sounded funny. So I started to play in the club I’m still playing now, Solrød, and I just fell in love with the game, with the competition... I’m a very bad loser, so I really enjoyed that you can get victories.
OC: What do you like about badminton?
MB: I like that there’s a lot of elements that you have to control. It’s not only about having good skills, you have to be good physically. It's a mental and tactical game too, and if you cannot fit it and make it work, you don’t reach the top.
OC: When did you realise that you could go far in badminton and have a professional career?
MB: I think it was when I won the national championships when I was 16 years old. That really meant a lot to me and I got a lot of support from my family and coaches and my club. I really enjoyed being in the national training centre in Brondby.
I was studying in high school and there was a lot of work to do there and I wanted to do both. But I was sure that I really wanted to go full time with the badminton.
OC: There's a quote where you say, "I want to be the best". Tell us about your ambitions.
MB: As I said before, I’m a very bad loser, and I think I have so much of a winning mentality that I just really want to reach the top and be the best one.
OC: Is that in general? In which other situations do you hate to lose?
MB: It can be if I play cards, or we play table tennis or football in the garden. I don’t want to lose.
OC: Right now you are number 22 in the world. Carolina Marin was Olympic champion at 23. What's your target?
MB: Right now I’m still working on my improvements, I still have a lot of things to be better at before that I reach the top, but it’s nice that sometimes I get a victory against a top player. And Carolina is definitely one to look up to.
OC: You once said: "I never lose, either I win or I learn". Tell us how you have bounced back from setbacks during your career.
MB: I think it’s very important you can learn from your losses and your mistakes. I have always been good at pushing myself and pushing my limits. I think when I use so much energy on it, I want to be better and better every day. I want to become better every day.
I’ve learnt a lot if I lose big finals. It's sad when you stand on the podium and you are second. I think it's very motivating sometimes when you lose because you know you can push even harder to be better.
OC: What has been the most lowest moment of your career so far?
MB: That must be maybe three or four years ago. I had a lot of injuries and I couldn’t find myself. I felt frustrated.
I think it was when I started high school and it was too much homework and I couldn’t, like, be in school because then I was thinking about badminton. And when I was at practice I thought, "I should be in school right now"… so I changed my high school line and it got much better.
OC: How much do you train now?
MB: Around four or five hours every day. I have two practises in the hall and one gym session with some core stability or mobility work.
OC: How have you changed your preparation over the years?
MB: I have tried a lot of different things for my preparation before matches. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t get a good start or I was too tired in the morning when we were playing.
So I started running before my matches, maybe five or six hours before, I'd go for a little run outside. That really helped me with cleaning my thoughts and getting some speed in my legs. I think it was nice.
OC: Do you have any favourite run when you're at home?
MB: It’s more when I’m out for tournaments. I think it’s nice to come out of the hotel and get some fresh air instead of being in the fitness centre. That’s just my routine to do, I feel very comfortable when I do it.
OC: Have you ever got lost?
MB: No, but sometimes it’s nice to try to experience new things and see new things. But I've never got lost in my routes! (laughs)
OC: Where did you have your best pre-match run?
MB: That must be at the World Championships last year. We were playing in Nanjing, the same place where we played in 2014 for the Youth Olympics. We lived close by Nanjing’s river and I woke up at five o’clock because I had to play at nine so I took a run down the river and there were so many people fishing and just happy people doing yoga or running and it was just so nice to be there. I think I was there for like 45 minutes or something. It was just so nice!
OC: Is it true that you lost weight? You said that you were fat, but, by looking at you, it doesn’t seem possible…
MB: I think it was when I started getting injuries and I couldn't practise. Then you put on weight because you don't practise as you used do and you do more lifts in the gym. Then we started on a new diet plan and I've been following that since so now I'm better at controlling my meals and knowing what's important for me to eat before I play.
OC: What did you feel when you won your first tournament, the Dutch Open in 2018?
MB: It was a relief. I'd been thinking about standing on top of the podium for such a long time and I didn’t have a Super 100 title, so my thoughts had been on it for many many weeks like, ‘Oh, it could be so nice.’ I knew I really wanted it.
And I was alone for the whole week, I had no coach. I knew I had to put time for the preparation and had to control myself. It was just an amazing week, it was nice!
OC: Do you know Viktor Axelsen and other top Danish players. How did they inspire you?
MB: I think Viktor is very inspiring. He's going his own way and I've been thinking a lot about that. It's important that you do the right things for yourself and take the right decisions for yourself. It’s just important that you’re happy when you do it, you don’t have to do it if you feel bad about it or it makes you sad. It’s important that you are in it all the time.
Viktor Axelsen bedazzles @PWGFreestyle with his badminton "matrix" workout
OC: Viktor is quite active on social media, he's built his own brand, Youtube channel. He's learned Chinese. Have you thought about doing the same?
MB: Yes, I have been thinking about learning Chinese but don't think the timing is quite good right now because there is a lot of travelling and Olympic qualification has just started. So maybe after the Olympics I will think about starting because it’s so nice to speak with all the other Asian players when we are out there.
OC: When you are in Asia, do you have the feeling that you are more popular there than in Europe?
MB: Yeah, I think badminton is more popular in Asia, especially when you go to China or Malaysia. And especially in Indonesia, there’s an amazing crowd and it’s always nice to be there.
OC: Are you recognised out on the street in Asia or when you go out for a meal?
MB: Sometimes people have asked me on the street if they can have a picture or autograph and I was, 'Yes, of course you can.' But I don't feel it's too much. It's nice.
I think Carolina is very nice and she's very cool. She's definitely one who goes her own way and I think it's very inspiring and her spirit on court is always good.
All the Asian girls are also very good, but they do it in a different way and I really like the way Carolina does her thing. I’ve been practising with her when we’re out for tournaments and I look up to her. I listen when she tells me I can do anything better or change something in my game and I think it’s nice.
Badminton champion Marin answers your fan questions
Badminton champion Marin answers your fan questionsBadminton singles gold medallist Carolina Marin answers the questions the fans want to know the answers to in Infrequently Asked Questions.
OC: What do you think has made her so successful in what's not a 'European' sport?
MB: It must be her mental power. I think she's very strong mentally. She knows what she wants, and she's a huge fighter.
OC: And you, are you strong mentally?
MB: I think I am but sometimes it depends on situation. I can be better at the mental part and I’m still working on it, but I would say that I’m still a fighter.
OC: Who's been your toughest rival and why?
MB: I think it must be Carolina and Nozomi Okuhara from Japan. I think it's very difficult to play against them. You can't make many mistakes.
They have a lot of nice things in their game that I'm very excited about!
OC: Apart from Marin, the top of the rankings are dominated by Asian players. Why is there such a big gap in terms of the number of top players?
MB: I think badminton is just a bigger sport in Asia. There's not so good an environment in all countries in Europe. There is a lot of other badminton players who play in Denmark because we have the academies and very good coaches.
OC: Have you thought about going to Asia for a training camp like judokas go to Japan to learn new techniques?
MB: I think it would be nice to try but I'm very happy with our system and I think our coaches are doing a very good job. And we have so many good players in the national centre so we have each other and help other.
OC: Have you ever practised with the men?
MB: Sometimes we practise with the men's singles.
OC: Have you ever played against Viktor?
MB: No! I think he would be too strong for me.
OC: Outside of badminton, is there a sportsperson that has inspired you?
MB: I think Caroline Wozniacki is a huge inspiration. She's also Danish and she's really one of her kind. She has been doing her own thing and walking her own way and doing what's right for her and I think that's very inspiring.
I've never met her but I really want to meet her. I think she’s so cool!
OC: What do you like doing in your spare time?
MB: I like being creative, painting and drawing. I draw abstract things and colour them. I can see if I’m happy or I’m sad because I use lighter colours if I’m happy.
I like art, especially Frida Kahlo.
OC: You like travelling. Which place has really stayed with you?
MB: I really like Kuala Lumpur. I think it's very nice. I like attractions so I think the Petronas Towers and TV Tower they have are so nice. I just love to explore the world and I'm very grateful that I can see the whole world when I'm doing the thing I love most.
OC: How do you picture yourself in two or three years?
MB: I would dream to be still playing badminton, in a higher level, and maybe I will be one of those who will fight for an Olympic medal in 2024.
OC: What would you say about your chances in Tokyo?
MB: If I qualify, it would be a big experience for me. I will have to learn a lot from it and hopefully I will still be able to push the best players and see how far I can go. Definitely I won’t go there just to be there, I will go there to fight with everything I have and give all I’ve got.
OC: Now you are in the top 20. So you want to be in the top five?
MB: Top 10 or top five, definitely. That would be so nice. And I think If I keep working hard and believe in myself, I will get there.