Few figures evoke as much awe and fear as Chinese head coach LI YONGBO. A former world champion doubles player, Yongbo directs a team that has no real competition. Usually considered standoffish, he was in good humour right through the World Badminton Championships last week at Hyderabad. DEV S SUKUMAR caught up with him for a conversation, interpreted by JAN LIN.
Lin Dan has often been compared to Zhao Jianhua and Yang Yang. You’ve played alongside both. Your take on the three?
You cannot compare across different generations. Each generation has its own great players.
Being the head coach of the Chinese badminton team, there must be tremendous pressure on you. During the Beijing Olympics it must have been especially hard…
Of course, as head coach there is a lot of pressure. But I have a great team of coaches and players, so they do help me relieve the stress. I understand my team very well, and I was confident of their strength. When you have such high confidence you don’t feel the pressure.
What is the secret of China’s dominance over other teams?
It’s mainly due to team effort, the feeling that the team is united and competing for a common goal. This brings the attitude of winning. I don’t see that with other teams. They fight more as individuals. In our team everyone is supportive of each other and we are all fighting and winning for the country.
You look very relaxed this time. You have been sitting in the stands all through the tournament…
I want to train our younger coaches, like (former champions) Xia Xuanze and Zhang Ning, I want to give them autonomy to decide on strategies. Besides, the World Championships happen every year. It’s not as grand as the Asian Games or Sudirman Cup or Olympics, which happen once in two or four years.
So you do plan to slowly recede into the background? Are you contemplating retirement?
No, not yet. Actually, I enjoy my role very much. At the moment, we are all happy as a family, so no reason to think of retirement!
You mentioned earlier in the week that you want to think of badminton beyond China. Do you plan to, say, conduct clinics outside China?
Because of all the politics in BWF, it’s very difficult to practically do anything. But within China there are a lot of entrepreneurs who want to do something across the world. So for us right now, the way is to have good individuals who are good ambassadors for the sport. We want them to be good representatives of the game through their behaviour, and this is how we can contribute to the world image of badminton.
What kind of a relationship did you have with the three early greats of Chinese badminton – Hou Chia Chang, Fang Kai Hsiang and Tang Hsien Fu?
Tang Hsien helped discover Lin Dan. I have a lot of respect for him. I was coached by him too, but not for very long.
The Chinese badminton team raised a lot of money for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. Do you see a higher responsibility for players?
When the earthquake happened, the Chinese community all over the world wanted to do something for the victims, and were very helpful. So especially as a Chinese badminton team coach, I do not want to be recognised for winning championships only, but also as a responsible member of society. That’s why I organised several fund-raising events.
How do you spend time off-court?
I play golf and tennis. I like to sing… I participate in charity singing events and have even brought out CDs of my songs.