Dev S Sukumar. Hyderabad
There were few witnesses to Steinar Klausen’s extraordinary hour on Tuesday, but even they did not even know his name. He will pass off in memory as a blond Norwegian (but of course) who fought toe-to-toe against one of the world’s best players at the World Championships; a no-hoper waging a fierce battle against a favourite. There was no drama after the end, just a quiet exit, but he had taken the Korean eighth seed and 2008 Asian champion, Park Sung-Hwan, to within a heartbeat of a first-round loss. Having won the first set, and leading 15-12 in the decider, Klausen was edged out in the end, 21-18. Small solace.
“I played my best,” said the Norwegian, sweat pouring off his body as he stepped off court. “Unfortunately, I’m not so tactically strong, and I got a bit nervous.”
Not even hardened followers of the international tour have seen Klausen. This is his first big tournament — although he is 27, he has never played an event of this level, not even a Super Series event, but for the Denmark Open some three or four years ago. He doesn’t exactly remember when.
Badminton is a barely-known sport in Norway, and people still ask him what it is. “I started out playing in my garden. My brother found that it was a (regular) sport, and there was a club, so we entered. I moved to Denmark when I was 16 — I enrolled at the Danish Badminton College. They have a regular academic programme for badminton players there.”
But he could never pursue badminton seriously in Denmark and he had to return to Norway — it was too expensive to live away from home. But back home there was nobody to play with, and he gave up the game. It was two years ago that he resumed training. “I’m the only player in Norway,” he says, sounding almost apologetic. “There is one 18-year-old, but he isn’t of my level. I do my physical training with ice-hockey players and skiiers.”
It’s possible that Klaus will return to obscurity. He has no plans to take up the game as a career, for it will necessitate a move to a badminton-playing country like Denmark. “I thought of moving again to Denmark to pursue my career… but I’m getting married in May next year, and it will be hard for me to be away from my fiancee.”
Then he thinks aloud: “I can play well, I have good potential. But I have a problem beating players below my standard. I wonder why.”