Pictured: Oliver Leydon-Davis and Anona Pak, New Zealand. Photo Credit: Luis Veniegra Photography
Last month, New Zealand trio Abhinav Manota, Oliver Leydon-Davis and Anona Pak enjoyed shared success at the VICTOR Oceania Championships as Manota took home two individual Gold medals in the men’s singles and doubles (alongside Leydon-Davis), while all three took home a silver in their respective men’s and women’s team event.
Immediately after the continental championships finished, the three players headed to Europe to surge through the circuit to boost their ranking as the Olympic qualification deadline looms – currently set to end on 26 April 2020.
“We had been following the virus status which seemed to be having more of an impact in Asia, so far so good…we thought”, says Anona Pak.
However, the timing couldn’t have been much worse as the COVID-19 outbreak began to spread around the globe.
The players were able to compete in the Austrian Open 2020 (19-22 February) before the suspension of events began to cripple any hopes of further competition. As the situation in Italy began to worsen, so did the organisers dreams to deliver the YONEX German Open 2020.
“We actually booked flights just a few hours before the German Open got cancelled. It was really unexpected, but we have no control over the health authorities in Mulheim, so we had no choice but to forfeit our flights”, says Anona.
As a result, the trio became skeptical about the remainder of their planned tournaments, which included the KaBaL International Karviná 2020 (12-15 March). Despite booking expensive flights with rebooking options, the players also knew that neighbouring players from Australia were transiting through Singapore as they all learnt of the tournament cancellation – although they were able to return home from Singapore before reaching Europe.
Talking of the escalated tensions, Pak says “News of the virus was getting more serious, and travel restrictions was implemented on for many Europe countries. The next tournaments we had planned were Swiss Open, Orleans Open, Canada, Dutch Internationals”
The three players based themselves with Croatian player and ally, Zvonimir Durkinjak, who helps them find local Air BnB accommodation, while assisting with on-court training opportunities with his local club and gym. As the organisers of the Swiss Open began to introduce measures (reducing crowds to 200, then zero), the players faced a dilemma of potentially entering Switzerland in the hope of competing, before not being allowed to re-enter Croatia due to a compulsory 14-day self-isolation rule.
Then, the news broke regarding BWF’s decision to suspend all tournaments between 16 March – 12 April – which cemented plans for the trio to stay put. This also affected two key tournaments in Oceania’s calendar: YONEX North Harbour and YONEX Waikato International.
“We were quite optimistic about the whole experience, so continued to train as usual in Croatia, setting small goals and working on our strength and fitness because although we have no idea whether the tournaments will be going on ahead we held onto the little bit of hope so we will still be able to perform our best”
“Clouded with uncertainty, we communicated with Badminton New Zealand and remained positive and encouraged each other, despite not being able to play the tournaments especially when we needed the points for Olympic Qualification” says Pak.
As players and organisations await further developments regarding the impact of COVID-19 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee released a communique regarding the Tokyo 2020 Games this week – a statement supported by the Badminton World Federation.
All three players have now safely returned to New Zealand. Despite having to self-isolate for 14 days under government instruction, they are already planning home exercises, including a combined effort of the ‘one hundred press up challenge’.
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