By Sazali Abdul Aziz
Singapore: He holds the record for the number of men's singles titles at the All England Open Badminton Championships, winning seven straight from 1968 to 1974 and adding an eighth in 1976.
And legendary Indonesian shuttler Rudy Hartono, regarded by many as one of the greatest in history, believes he would still rule the sport if he were in his prime today.
The 66-year-old was in town at the invitation of the local Badminton Coaches Association to speak at its inaugural Coaches Seminar at the Civil Service Club's Tessensohn clubhouse yesterday.
When The New Paper asked him if he would be No. 1 today: "It depends. If I prepare well, in terms of physical fitness, mental strength and technical strategy, then I would have the confidence to win.
"So I can say yes."
Hartono was the undisputed king of his era.
At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, he eased to victory by beating Dane Svend Pri 15-6, 15-1 in the final, although badminton was only a demonstration sport at the Games then.
It only became an official Olympic sport at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
In his only crack at the World Championships in 1980, Hartono claimed the title at the ripe old age of 31.
By then, he was far past his prime.
He believes he was at the peak of his powers when he was actually a teenager, between 18 and 20 years old.
Hartono was the leading light in a successful era for Indonesian badminton, with the great Liem Swie King succeeding him.
Taufik Hidayat, the 2002 Olympic gold medallist who retired two years ago, was Indonesia's last great player, as China, with Lin Dan and now Chen Long, usurped the South-east Asian country as the top badminton nation in the world.
Indonesia's male shuttlers have won the prestigious Thomas Cup 13 out of the 28 times it has been played – but the last was in 2002.
It is a decline that saddens Hartono, who says the only way Indonesian badminton can rise again is if its government actively promotes the sport in schools.
"If the Indonesian government realises and wants to change the system and support the development of badminton by pumping more funds and also creating better infrastructure, then maybe," he said.
"We have to promote badminton in schools, from elementary level upwards.
"That's what's lacking now."
At yesterday's seminar, Hartono touched on the topic of making a top player with over 100 local coaches.
"Singapore has an advantage because you can push (badminton) in the schools, because every school here has an indoor hall," said Hartono.
"So, the next important thing is upgrading every coach in Singapore.
"Hopefully that is what the Badminton Coaches Association can do."
–The New Paper