It is an unorthodox approach, but Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen is hoping his decision to go without a coach will help him win badminton gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The world No. 4 has flourished since parting ways with a full-time coach in 2019, with his physiotherapist Victoria Kao filling the role of mentor, cheerleader and critic.
With Kao in his corner, Chou won his first Super 1000 title at the 2019 Indonesia Open, and lifted the Taipei Open trophy for a record third time.
Photo: Sam Yeh, AFP
Now Chou, who reached the last eight at Rio 2016, has set his sights on winning Taiwan’s first Olympic badminton medal.
“Taiwan’s strength has increased a lot, and there is a very good chance of winning,” Chou, 31, said in an interview.
“I’ve grown and improved a lot since 2016,” he added. “I feel I have the chance to win a medal, even the gold medal.”
Photo: Sam Yeh, AFP
Chou is to be heading to Tokyo alongside women’s world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying and doubles duo Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin, who are ranked third globally.
Despite a strong badminton pedigree, Taiwan has yet to bring home an Olympic medal, but the team are to arrive in Tokyo at something of an advantage.
While so many other governments failed to adequately prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan stopped its initial outbreak and kept infections out for a year, allowing its athletes to live largely as normal.
“I feel God has given Taiwanese athletes a psychological advantage here,” said Chou, a devout Christian. “Athletes in some other countries have to stop training, or take coronavirus tests before they can attend any trainings.”
After a year of calm, a surge in cases over the past month prompted the government to raise the pandemic alert to level 3 and tighten social distancing rules.
As a result, Olympic athletes have been secluded in the national training center in Kaohsiung since the middle of last month.
However, Chou said living at the training center has made him more focused.
“There’s a feeling of fear and insecurity now because of the recent coronavirus outbreak, and I want to give a healthy dose of optimism,” he said.
Kao said that the pandemic is a problem facing everyone at the Olympics.
“The pandemic is also a rival, it’s part of the challenge for players,” she said. “Those who can adjust and perform better under this pressure have higher odds at winning.”
Chou’s world ranking rose to a career-high two after his winning streak in 2019. Even if he does not have a coach, he can still tap into the expertise of Taiwan’s state coaching setup.
“It’s not like I am so great that I don’t need a coach or I don’t have anyone to teach me,” he said, adding that the arrangement suits him well.
“Everybody has something I can learn from... this method works best for me,” he said. “God is my coach.”
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