The day Carolina Marin came face to face with her idol Rafael Nadal for the first time, last April at the Madrid Masters, the Spanish two-time world badminton champion could not conceal her excitement.
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“Today has been an important day for me because I finally got to meet Rafa Nadal. Thanks for letting me meet you,” an elated Marin posted on her Twitter page. Nadal tweeted a picture of them together at the Caja Magica tennis stadium that day – a pair of Spanish lefties, standing side by side, each an icon responsible for revolutionising their respective sport in one way or another.
Except Nadal, a 14-time grand slam tennis champion, is a globally-recognisable figure, his face plastered on billboards worldwide, and his fans well up in the millions in both the virtual and real world.
While up until a year ago, Marin could walk around Madrid unnoticed and was more popular in some countries in Asia than in her own hometown in Andalucia. Such is the reality of being a badminton star from Spain but Marin, the current world No. 1, is slowly changing that as she continues to make history for her country in the sport.
The 22-year-old from Huelva is the first Spanish shuttler to top the world rankings, to capture a Grand Prix Gold title, and to win the World Championship – which she has achieved twice, in 2014 and 2015.
In a sport heavily dominated by Asians, Marin has emerged as a true pioneer and it all started by accident. She stumbled upon the sport when she was eight years old.
Back in Huelva, in the south of Spain, she was performing a flamenco dance and later when she was walking around the venue with her friends she came across a hall where some people were playing badminton.
Marin never looked back from then on.
“I liked it because it’s a strange sport, the racquet is different from tennis and also the shuttle. So I just continued playing and I liked it,” Marin revealed ahead of her winning debut in the Dubai World Super Series Finals at the Hamdan Sports Complex on Wednesday.
But when did she realise she could actually make a career out of the sport? “When I went to the National Centre when I was 14 years old and my coach asked me what was my highest dream in the sport, what I wanted to get in my badminton career. I said ‘I want to be the world No. 1, world champion, Olympic champion and European champion’,”
Marin says. “So since I was young, I just dreamt high.”
She relocated to Madrid to train at the National Centre and since there were barely any players at her level available in the country, Marin had to practise with the boys.
“Now badminton is getting more popular in Spain, after my first World Championship (title in 2014),” she adds. “So now maybe you can see sometimes in the street that there are children or people playing badminton.”
Marin comes to the UAE occupying the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the Destination Dubai rankings, which count the points amassed from all the Super Series tournaments throughout the year.
Happy with my victory today thanks yonex for my nice dress ontenta con la primera victoria de hoy pic.twitter.com/5qcSI42thn
— Carolina Marin (@caro_marin2) December 9, 2015
In 2015, she successfully defended her World Championship crown in August and has collected five more Super Series trophies, including one at the prestigious All England Open. Thanks to her unprecedented achievements, Marin is becoming a popular figure back home with her face appearing in all the major newspapers and congratulatory messages pouring in with every victory, including one from Nadal after a win over Saina Nehwal in the World Championship final.
Marin identifies with Nadal in more ways than one and it is not just because they are both southpaws.
“I think I compare with Rafa because we have the same character,” she explains. “We fight until the end, we show our opponents we want to beat them, we die until the match is gone. That’s why Rafa is my idol.”
“He was impressed with my performance during the last two or three years because I became somewhat of an icon in Spain and I showed that we have some good badminton players in Spain.
“He played but he doesn’t like it because he says badminton is too tiring,” she adds with a laugh.
And if the indefatigable Nadal says badminton is too tiring – it’s little wonder he’s impressed by Marin. Just like Nadal, who is renowned for spending endless hours on court training, Marin attributes her success this year to placing an extra focus on practice.
— Steen Schleicher (@steenschleicher) December 10, 2015
She says she trains for seven hours a day, six days a week, which in no doubt places significant strain on her body. The young shuttler considers her World Championship title defence as the highlight of her season because it came after sustaining an injury that almost ruled her out of the event.
“It was an important tournament for me because one month before the World Championship I got an injury in my right foot and we had to change my preparation and we didn’t know if I could play or not until one and a half week before it,” she admits. “So it was really hard for my body and also for my mental condition.”
She wasn’t as lucky last year when she didn’t make the cut for the Super Series Finals in Dubai having suffered an injury after the Worlds. That is precisely why she has some extra motivation to perform well this week in the Emirates.
“I feel so excited because it’s my first time here in Dubai and it’s also my first time to play Super Series Finals so I’m very excited to start here,” says Marin, who claimed the BWF Player of the Year Award at a gala in Dubai on Monday night.
With the Olympics coming up next year in Rio de Janeiro, Marin is eyeing an even bigger award, a gold medal that would see her fulfil every dream she spoke about with her coach as a 14-year-old.
“I want to focus on the tournaments before the Olympics and then after May I will keep my focus on the Olympics,” she says calmly. “Of course there is pressure on me to get a medal for Spain. But I don’t see it as pressure. I just want to do my best and to enjoy the tournament.”
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The Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge returns on Friday and while it’s too late to sign up, you can still show your support and enjoy the activities lined up.
More than 1,000 riders will take to the streets from the Dubai Autodrome for the annual 92km course which has become a prominent event on the UAE sporting calendar.
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With the participants riding past some of Dubai’s iconic landmarks, you can show your support in one of five spectator spots including the Al Qudra Cycle Park and Al Warood Street Bridge.
And with the Dubai Autodrome also being the finishing point, a special ‘Cycles Village’ will be set up with many top bike companies showcasing their latest gear as well as food stalls and fun activities from 08:30 onwards.
“Anyone who is into their cycling will see there’s a lot of bike shops and exhibitors showing their products,” said Stewart Howison, Spinneys Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge director.
“All the big bike companies in the UAE will be there – The Bike Ride, Revolution Cycles as well as Adventure HQ and GO Sport. They will all have different products on sale which will certainly impress the visitors.”
“There will also be an opportunity for children under six to enjoy the junior ride and cycle around the Dubai Autodrome. Plus there will be other fun activities for them to enjoy too.”
He added: “The atmosphere will be very vibrant when the riders start coming through the finish line. It’s all about the achievement of those cyclists who have put in so much over the last five or six months.”
Now in its sixth year, the event has gone from strength to strength and with the previous four build-up rides hugely popular, this weekend’s event looks set to be no different.
“This year has been very positive in terms of numbers,” said Howison.
“It’s gone really well and we are now six years old and the event has really grown with the backing of the UAE government and funds.
“The profile of cycling has grown in the UAE with the addition of new cycle tracks and global tournaments like the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours. It’s really encouraging as in our very first event, we had more than 400 and now 1,000 will take to the streets is an unbelievable number.”
Howison hopes people can come in their numbers and show their support at the spectator areas or at the Cycle Village.
“You don’t have to be the fittest to be riding,” he said.
“You can be young or old, we want to help promote the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, and hopefully by seeing the different age of cyclists on the day, they can be inspired to take up cycling and maybe be involved in next year’s event.”
VENUE: Dubai Autodrome (start and finish for ride plus Cycle Village) and various spectator areas.
WHAT: Spinney’s Dubai 92 Cycle Challenge
WHEN: Friday. Ride begins from 06:00 and Cycle Village from 08:00
Sport360 VERDICT: One not to be missed for family and friends.
CONTACT: For information on spectator areas, visit www.cyclechallenge.ae
From Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement to Cristiano Ronaldo’s apology, here’s a look at the elevent most retweeted global athlete tweets in 2015.
1. Kobe Bryant announces he will retire at the end of the season – 131K Retweets
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) November 29, 2015
2. Gerard Pique tweets all emojis – 114K Retweets
3. Xabi Alonso marks Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard’s retirement – 112K Retweets
My hero. My mate. pic.twitter.com/qFmO53EQvl
— Xabi Alonso (@XabiAlonso) January 2, 2015
4. Mike Tyson is underwhelmed by the #MayPac fight after five years of waiting – 107K Retweets
— Mike Tyson (@MikeTyson) May 3, 2015
5. Floyd Mayweather builds tension just beforee #MayPac fight – 89K Retweets
— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) May 3, 2015
6. Luke Shaw thanks Manchester United fans for support after devastating injury – 83K Retweets
Thank you everyone for your messages , words can’t describe how gutted I am , my road to recovery starts now, I will come back stronger.
— Luke Shaw (@LukeShaw23) September 15, 2015
7. Iker Casillas shares a video reflecting on his Real Madrid career – 79K Retweets
— Iker Casillas (@CasillasWorld) July 12, 2015
8. Stephen Curry rejoices after Golden State Warriors victory in the NBA Finals – 66K Retweets
9. Cristiano Ronaldo apologizes to fans for getting a red card in the game against Cordoba – 60K Retweets
Pido disculpas a todos y especialmente a Edimar por mi acto irreflexivo en el partido de hoy.
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) January 24, 2015
10. NBA star Lamarcus Aldridge announces his return to Texas to become a San Antonio Spur – 56K Retweets
I’m happy to say I’m going home to Texas and will be a Spur!! I’m excited to join the team and be close to my family and friends.
— Lamarcus Aldridge (@aldridge_12) July 4, 2015
11. Steve Nash confirms his retirement from basketball – 54K Retweets
— Steve Nash (@SteveNash) March 21, 2015