Bongani van Bodenstein might not have won a game at this year’s Commonwealth Games, but he left Gold Coast, Australia thinking like a winner.
The Tuks player who is competing from Monday at the USSA Tournament in Durban gets quite excited when he talks about his experience during the Games. It has changed his whole approach to playing badminton.
Whereas in the past he would not have thought twice about going for a beer with his mates after attending his last class at Tuks, he’s now out training.
He realises that success and sacrifices go hand-in-hand. The goal he has set himself is that if he gets to represent South Africa at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, he’s not going to be just another name in the draw.
‘Getting to go to the Commonwealth Games was, without doubt, the best thing that could have happened to me,’ he said.
‘In the past, I have represented South Africa at the World Junior Championships and World Student Games. But the big difference this time around was that I got to stay in an athlete’s village and got to rub shoulders with some of the world’s best players. I saw Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and was astonished by his professional approach to the sport.’
Wei won the singles title at the Commonwealth Games and has medalled a few times at the Olympic Games and the World Championships. When he was in his prime, he was the world’s best player for 199 consecutive weeks.
‘But it was sitting down and talking with some players from Australia and England that changed my perception about being a badminton player,’ Van Bodenstein continued.
‘One player said to me that his impression was that South African players don’t believe they’re good enough to compete internationally. We are getting intimidated too easily. According to him, it is wrong because we train just as hard as they do. The big difference is when they get to play, they do so to win.
‘I had to admit he was right. In the past when I walked on to the court during an international tournament, the last thing I thought about was winning. My only goal was to try and at least win 10 points and put up a good showing. When I think back to it now, I realise it was a somewhat childish approach.
‘It was suggested to me that I should start to keep a diary in which I wrote down my goals, small and long-term, and then tick it off on a daily basis to get disciplined. I started doing so, and it is motivating me.
‘My whole approach to training has also changed. For the first time, I’m up at 5am sprinting on the athletics track. I’m also training to a specific programme in the gym and on the court,’ said the Tuks player, who won the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles in the previous two USSA tournaments.
Photo: Van Bodenstein (centre) and Tuks teammates, by Reg Caldecott