We Take A Look At Why Indonesians Are So Good At Badminton
Photo by the Badminton World Federation.


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We Take A Look At Why Indonesians Are So Good At Badminton

During the 90s and early 00s, Indonesians almost totally dominated the world of badminton. We speak with badminton legend Christian Hadinata to find out what makes Indonesians some of the best players in the world.

Lately, I've become obsessed with watching matches of the current badminton world number one men's pair, Kevin Sanjaya Sukomuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon. I don't know how much time I've spent watching their games, whether during downtime at work, on the toilet, or on the back of a motorbike, but I can't stop binge watching badminton on YouTube.

Indonesia isn't known as a global power in many popular sports. The Indonesian national football team, although loved, currently sits at 167 in the world rankings. When it comes to badminton, we can hold our chests out high, because Indonesians are consistently among the best in the world


As a result, badminton has become a rare source of good news for Indonesians when everything around them is going to to shit. While many Indonesians were watching the E-KTP corruption cases last week, badminton offered good news when Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo and Marcus Fernaldi Gideon managed to defend their title at the 2017 India Open.  Better yet, their championship match was against the fellow Indonesian duo of Angga Pratama and Ricky Karanda Suwardi.

While binge watching classic Indonesian badminton matches, a few things started to become clear. First off, there's no doubt Indonesia completely dominated the world of badminton during the 90s and early 00s. These great heights happened to coincide with the time that many Indonesian's got their first televisions and were able to watch fellow Indonesian's beat the world. These memories are a source of great pride and nostalgia for many of us.

Indonesia's golden era of badminton seemed to come out of nowhere. To find out why Indonesia suddenly dominated the world of shuttlecocks, I decided to speak to the master himself, former champion Christian Hadinata.

Christian is living, breathing badminton legend. As a player he reached the final of prestigious All England singles in 1973. Koh Chris—his nickname—was a force in doubles and mixed doubles. No matter who he was paired with—Ade Chandra, Lius Pongoh, Retno Kustijah, Atik Jauhari, Imelda Wiguno, Ivana Lie, Lim Swie King, or Icuk Sugiatro—he won a championship with every single partner.


Christian Hadinata during his prime in the 70's. Photo by PB Djarum.

After he stepped off the court and became a coach, Koh Chris produced some of the worlds most dangerous doubles combos like Antonius/Denny Kantono, Rexy Mainaky/Ricky Subagja and Candra Wijaya/Sigit Budiarto. Today, he's a technical adviser at Djarum's badminton club.

"Indonesian athletes have remarkable talents," Koh Chris said when asked why Indonesian teams have collected so many badminton titles. He believes that Indonesians are inherently gifted to play badminton from birth, and there is a huge crop of skilled badminton players all over Indonesia.

I thought badminton was always about height. Indonesians are not exactly gifted in this department. The average height of Indonesians is 158cm for men and 147cm for women, while the ideal size of a badminton player is 170cm.

"It's still a big debate in badminton, but from my experience, height doesn't play a huge factor," said Koh Chris. "A lot of our relatively short athletes achieved amazing things. Just look at Hastomo Arbi (162cm), Susi Susanti (162cm), Mia Audina(169cm) and of course our latest sensation, Kevin(170cm) and Gideon(167cm). They even earned the nickname the 'minion duo.'"

At the time, men's doubles was stylish and relatively slow. Christian Hadinata and Ade Chandra decided to use speed to completely transform the way professional badminton was played.

Koh Chris—known as a remarkable playmaker along the baseline during his prime—believes that because badminton isn't a contact sport, height isn't a huge factor. Small players can compensate for their lack of height with agility.


Koh Chris used his gift of speed to transform the game of badminton. His revolution started at the 1972 All England championship. At the time, men's doubles was stylish and relatively slow, relying mostly on carefully places shots. Realizing they were unable to directly compete with European players, Christian Hadinata and Ade Chandra decided to use speed to completely transform the way professional badminton was played.

The pair would attack their opponent relentlessly and not give them a chance to develop their game. This strategy paid off and on their very first time completing at All England, they won the championship. Badminton men's doubles hasn't been the same since.

For Koh Chris, instincts are what seperate the great players from everyone else. "If you have good instinct and feeling, the shuttlecock comes at you instead you having to chase it around," he said.

Talent can't be the only reason Indonesians are so good. Plenty of other Asian countries, especially China, South Korea, Malaysia, and Japan share similar qualities like speed and sharp badminton instinct. There has to be something else that puts Indonesian players above and beyond the rest.

According Koh Chris, what makes Indonesian players unique is their broad variety of shots. Chinese and Korean players are famous for an aggressive style which has them smashing the shuttlecock at every opportunity. Indonesian players use a varied approach, some shots can be well placed while others are full of power.


Shot versatility is not something somebody can just easily pickup through training, according to Koh Chris. The capability to pull off unique shots, he said, "is a gift, it's not something you can teach someone."

On paper, you could probably sum up the formula for a great Indonesia badminton player as great talent + speed + instinct + broad variety of shots. Even though this seems to be so straightforward, it's hard to find good players in the women's doubles, and men's and women's singles categories.

The lack of depth is obvious, currently there isn't a single Indonesian in the world's top ten rankings of men's and women's singles badminton players. Koh Chris admits that Indonesia is lagging behind, especially in the women's category, but he said the problem is not for lack of women players.

"There are always potential players, but my personal opinion is that there should be a mentor or a role model in every category," he says. Men's doubles and mixed doubles have mentors like Hendra Setyawan and Lilyanana 'Butet' Natsir. Koh Chris says they help offer guidance —especially the junior players—to get to the world competitions. The women's category needs a similar guiding hand. "I have hopes for Greysia Polii to be a leader [and mentor] in women's doubles," Koh Chris said.

Not only was badminton a source of great pride for Indonesians, but it also helped serve as a medium for athletes of Chinese decent to gain recognition as "real" Indonesia citizens post-1965. Like many other people of Chinese ethnicity at the time, players like Susi Susanti and Tan Joe Hok were forced to assimilate and change their Mandarin names into Indonesian sounding names.

Even with their success and admiration, they couldn't escape rumors of subversion that seemingly follow Chinese Indonesians everywhere they go. In 1983, Icuk Sugiarto, who is not of Chinese descent, managed to become the world champion in men's singles. Before this the only known Indonesian champions were Rudy Hartono and Lim Swie King, both of Chinese descent. A rumor spread that Icuk won because King threw the match.

I asked Koh Chris about this rumor and the general feeling towards Indonesian players of Chinese decent. He smiled and didn't deny that Chinese Indonesians played a big role in Indonesian badminton. He said the reason behind their domination is that they are exposed earlier to badminton. He also said that average Chinese Indonesian players have a strong work ethic, but nothing else besides that really separates them from other Indonesian players.

Koh Chris said that Icuk deserved to be world champion. "I used to stay in the same room with Icuk, we were paired. So I know his hard work. Icuk becoming world champion was no coincidence."