Self-funded Michelle Li hoping for Olympic medal to change scenario

Li, the World No. 10, gets no financial support from her home country, Canada. “If I win a medal in Tokyo it will get better,” she says.

Michelle Li’s quick reflexes helped her defeat P. V. Sindhu on Wednesday.   -  Nagara Gopal

Canada’s Michelle Li admitted she was inspired by the performance of her North Eastern Warriors team-mate Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk when she took the court on Wednesday at the G.M.C. Balayogi Stadium in Hyderabad to play Hyderabad Hunters’ P. V. Sindhu.

The World No. 6 Sindhu, who holds a 6-2 head-to-head record against Li on the BWF circuit, was undone by the Canadian shuttler’s quick reflexes on the night. She eventually fell to a 15-8, 15-9 defeat.

“Tanongsak’s performance (a 15-14, 15-14 win over Sourabh Verma in the Trump match of the Hunters) gave me more confidence to fight harder. I carried the momentum for the team. I expected it (the Sindhu match). I made sure that it didn’t affect me because I was prepared for it. I just try not to focus on pressure. We’ve played each other many times. I guess we are familiar with each other’s shots. She is more of an attacking player and I was ready for that too,” the World No. 10 Li said after the match against Sindhu.

Li, who was born in Hong Kong, moved to Canada with her parents when she was just six. Five years later, she picked up the badminton racquet at 11 and reached the international stage when she was 17. However, life in Canada hasn’t been easy for the 28-year-old. “I don’t get support from the government. I’m still self-funded. So I kind of do everything on my own. When I’m in Canada, I don’t have any training because I don’t have anyone to train with. Back at home (Markham, Toronto), I play with juniors. But most of my training happens in tournaments,” Michelle Li told Sportstar.

Not top priority

Having reached a career-high ranking of eight in 2019, she said badminton was still way down the priority list of sports in her country. “We have a lot of athletes and we have different sports. We have [ice] hockey which is our national sport, then we have basketball, tennis, swimming and athletics. So [badminton] kind of goes down the list,” she added.

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The two-time Macau Open winner and 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medalist feels that if she goes on to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics, the state of the sport in Canada will change. “For sure, if I win a medal in Tokyo it will get better. Nobody in Canada expected me to do well. If I can generate better results for Canada, it will change the situation. This year, my target is to get a seeding for the Olympics. Right now, I’m close to achieving that. I hope I can go higher in the rankings and put up a good show at the Olympics,” said the top Canadian badminton player.

“I have a coach in Canada and one in Taiwan but they don’t travel with me and it’s hard. The government has a little bit of money [for badminton] but that’s not enough. Obviously, the Olympics is big and they will sponsor me. But when I’m on tour everything falls on me. The budget is also higher for other sports.”

‘Nice experience’

Michelle Li also lauded the Premier Badminton League as a great learning curve and acknowledged the Indian fans for their huge support to badminton. “This is my second PBL and it’s always a nice experience to be here. The fans have been tremendous and the organisation is fine. The whole country supports Sindhu and Saina [Nehwal] here but it’s not the same for me,” she said.

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“Back home, people are interested in badminton but because it’s a relatively small sport, nobody understands it. My friends and family make an effort to understand what I do and they try their best to support me. I hope I can take this sport forward in my country and make an impact in some way. Definitely, my own academy would be nice.”

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