By Jessica Damiana and Zahra Matarani
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Affectionately dubbed the “Minions” after the little yellow creatures from the 2015 animated movie, diminutive badminton duo Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo will hope to stand tall and win gold for hosts Indonesia at the Asian Games this month.
Currently the world’s top ranked men’s doubles team, the pair are among some 11,300 athletes from across Asia who are set to compete in 40 sports hosted by the Southeast Asian nation in the capital Jakarta and Palembang on Sumatra island.
Badminton, in which Indonesia hopes to medal, is one of the country’s most popular sports with children and adults across the vast archipelago playing it almost every day in sports halls, backyards and alleyways.
Like many Indonesians, Gideon and Sukamuljo started playing at an early age. Now 27 and 23, they were paired three years ago and have collected several titles together at major tournaments, including earlier this year at the prestigious All England Open.
“I think height doesn’t impact our performance. What’s important is confidence,” Gideon, who stands 168cm tall, told Reuters with a laugh.
“We keep learning, that’s why we are getting better,” his partner Sukamuljo, who is 2cm taller, said in an interview between training sessions at the Indonesian Badminton Association on the outskirts of Jakarta.
The pair took the All England Open title by beating Danish duo Carsten Mogensen and Mathias Boe, who are ranked the world’s number two, and will be strong favourites to land the men’s doubles gold on Aug. 28.
Indonesia has a long history of success at international badminton competitions, most recently through the now retired Olympic and world singles champion Taufik Hidayat.
Tan Joe Hok became the first Indonesian to win the All England Open in 1959 when the Southeast Asian country first competed in the tournament with the ethnic Chinese also landing the inaugural Asian Games men’s singles gold in Jakarta in 1962.
Susi Susanti, gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said the sport comes naturally to many Indonesians but added that every player was encouraged to develop their own style, which, she says, sets them apart from other nationalities.
“They are not that tall, but they are powerful. With the right strategy and agility, they can beat their much larger opponents,” she said of her compatriots.
Indonesians have won 26 gold medals in badminton over 15 versions of the Asian Games, the Thomas Cup men’s team championship 13 times and the equivalent for women, the Uber Cup, three times.
Since badminton became an Olympic sport in 1992, however, competition from countries like China, India, Denmark, and Spain has grown markedly.
“It looks like it will be very difficult to bring home the Thomas and Uber Cup, because now the competition among countries is very tough,” said Gatot S. Dewa Broto of Indonesian Youth and Sports Ministry.
That will not, of course, diminish optimism in Indonesia that the likes Gideon and Sukamuljo will strike gold on home court at the Bung Karno Sport Complex over the next couple of weeks.
(Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Nick Mulvenney)