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Saunders: badminton's shining light

NIGELLA SAUNDERS has been one of the more recognisable names in the sport of badminton over the past decade.

A 12-year veteran of the game, badminton's local poster girl is a setter of many trends and records. She is the first Jamaican badminton player to qualify for the Olympics and is also the first player to bring home a gold medal from the sport after the 2003 Pan American Games.

Most recently, Saunders headed a team that went to Beijing to participate in the prestigious Sudirman Cup, unfortunately the side failed to advance out of its group as it was defeated by Sri Lanka.

One and One sat down with Saunders to talk about her past achievements and future aspirations.
Q: For those of us who don't know, when did you start playing badminton?

Nigella Saunders: I started playing in high school at the end of 1992 start of 1993.

Q: When did you start to take the sport seriously and what was the motivating factor?

NS: Well, I started playing local tournaments and I was doing pretty well, they called me for my first international tournament in 1995 ? that was to Cuba. Two and a half years after I started playing I was playing internationally, that's not too bad.

Q: Who has been your most memorable competitor and/or competition?

NS: That would definitely be the Pan Am Games in August playing against Anna Rice, it was a three setter point for point, and the whole Jamaican contingent was their cheering me on, that was a nice match.

Q: You went to Beijing recently to play the Sudirman Cup, what was that like?

NS: It was a good experience for the rest of the players who went, but for me I'm used to it in qualifying for the Olympics. I played about 20 international tournaments and that included travel to a lot of Asian and European countries so that was a norm for me.

Q: Would you say you have sacrificed a lot to achieve what you have in badminton?

NS: Yes, I have sacrificed a lot for badminton because I sacrificed my schooling, which I still haven't finished because of my aim of qualifying for the Olympics. I still want to go to university but because of badminton I still haven't been able to do that so far.

Q: Was the sacrifice worth it?

NS: Well in a way it is because you can study at any age, but sport is something you have to do while you are still able. One day you won't be able to run after the shuttle anymore. School you can do when you are older, that's why I think it was a good choice to go after the Olympics before going to university.

Q: What advice would you offer to young badminton players looking to emulate you?

NS: I would have to say school comes first. Try and get your subjects first. Badminton will not put food on the table in Jamaica, if you go to Europe for instance you may be able to make a living playing for clubs, but here in Jamaica you have to stay focused on school.

Q: Do you think badminton as a sport is under-rated in Jamaica?

NS: Yes, I would say it is because people will say badminton, 'you mean that sport that you hit the little birdie that's easy'. It's a different story when you get on the court because badminton is a very technical sport and it's not easy to hit the shuttle very hard and competitively, It is one of the fastest racquet sports. If more people played badminton we would get more respect.

Q: What challenges have you faced as a player?

NS: It's the same as any other athlete when you are on top - it's great, but come home without the medals and you're the worst. Merlene Ottey can tell you all about that feeling and it's the same thing I face at times.

Q: We know your mother passed away in 1999, how did that impact you as a player?

NS: When I lost my mother, I actually stopped playing because she was my inspiration, my drive, I felt like I had lost everything. But then I said why stop. I know my mom would have wanted me to continue and try for the Olympics. I know she would be proud to know that I did qualify.

Q: What have you been doing lately in terms of the sport?

NS: Right now I'm trying to give back to the sport, so I'm coaching a kids' age group 4-10 twice a week. It's a lot of fun coaching that age group. I used to coach teenagers at summer camps, but that was not as much fun, they give more problems and they don't always listen. The young ones listen to everything and they are always eager to learn.

Q: What has been happening in terms of your actual play?

NS: In terms of my playing right now, I am not so sure what I will be doing because I sacrificed school and I think that it is what I need to focus on now. I'm not sure what I will be doing in terms of international tournaments right now, if I will be playing full-time or not.

Q:Will we see you at the next Olympics?

NS: Everybody wants me to try and qualify, but it will take a lot because qualifying is not easy. It will mean training hard every day and living out of a suitcase travelling from country to country and I'm not so sure about that, but we'll see how it goes.

- Kwesi Mugisa

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