England’s number one ladies singles badminton player, Elizabeth Cann, represented England from the age of 13 and received her first England senior cap in 2002 in the Uber cup held in Holland. She now has 38 caps to date with her most immediate aim (as with most British international athletes of the moment) being to qualify for London 2012.
Her main competitor, Susan Egelstatt from Scotland, however, is standing in her way. For both British players to qualify for the Olympics, they both have to be ranked in the top 16 in the world. When asked her about the rivalry and what it was like knowing that in the most-likely scenario only one of the Brits would qualify, she told Cherwell Sport “It’s OK between us. We’ve always got on fairly well although we don’t see a lot of each other. Even if we are at the same tournament we don’t necessarily bump into each other. I guess it’s a bit strange this season as we both know we want the other one to lose.”
Cann is still hopeful, despite being ranked below Egelstatt, and is adjusting her tournament-training balance to try and improve her chances. “There are a lot more tournaments than a usual season to give us the best chance of getting our ranking as high as possible, but we still train really hard. I am on court Monday to Friday for two hours every day and on Monday afternoons for one hour. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays are when I do my physical training. We may do matches twice a week if tournaments are coming up but some weeks we may not do any. If we play several tournaments in a row we don’t do much match practice in training.”
Here typical match routine is as follows: “I’ll arrive at the hall about an hour and a half or two hours before my match. When I arrive I organize myself, fill up my drink bottles, and then mobilize my joints and proceed to sit and watch other matches for a while. I’ll have a brief chat with my coach about tactics and maybe eat a banana and have a carbohydrate drink. I’ll start my warm up half an hour before my match and will also go through the match in my mind and what I want to focus on.”
Turning to topics of controversy I pried into the reasons behind Robert Blair and Nathan Robertson’s falling out (both male British internationals, with Robertson an Olympic medallist) wondering if this had had any impact of the Anglo-Scottish relations within the squad. “To be honest I don’t really know what the problem was, I try to stay out of other people’s drama. It has had no effect on the Anglo-Scottish relations in the squad; they are doubles players so I never train with them and I haven’t noticed a difference in atmosphere.” Not giving up on my desire for some scandal, I asked Cann about the BWF’s attempt to make all women wear skirts for matches. “That definitely caused a stir. It wouldn’t have affected me as I wear skirts anyway. I see what they were trying to do but you need to wear what you feel comfortable in when competing. I wouldn’t have liked it if they were trying to make us wear big baggy shorts so they should probably just leave that one alone.”
Cann expresses great enthusiasm on the subject of the national team’s new coach Kenneth Jonassen, “a great coach, very professional and really knows his stuff. He brings a great intensity into the sessions and his style of coaching really suits me. He gives you small pointers to focus on within the exercises which make it different from what I’ve had before.”
The funding she receives from Badminton England is not enough to cover her expenses so she has to find other sources of income, which, she says, is not easy in the current climate. When asked about the seemingly endless conveyor belt of badminton talent coming out of South East Asia, she said “Badminton is an extremely popular sport in Asia and they have a very different system over there. Most athletes live in sports schools from the very young age of about 7 years old and so are pretty much training full time from that point. I think that’s part of the reason why they become good so young, along with the fact that they have world-class players to model themselves on. There are also many more people to choose from so if one gets injured then there are hundreds more.” She does believe that Europe is starting to challenge Asia in terms of producing badminton superstars but concedes that badminton will always remain more of a minority sport in Europe.
Asked whether it was easier to succeed as a girl or a boy, she told me, “Although there are more boys than girls playing the sport there are still a lot of girls who play singles on the international circuit and there’s a lot of depth. I guess it probably is easier for girls if you look at it that way, but it is by no means ‘easy’ for girls to succeed; we still have to put a lot of work in.” She is keen to encourage more girls to take up badminton by urging them to have a go and see if they enjoy it. “Singles is quite physically hard but if you don’t enjoy having to run around the court a lot then you can do mixed doubles,” although she quickly added that mixed doubles still involves a lot of running. “It’s a great social sport too and also interesting as there are so many different parts of the game to work on so it never gets boring.”
So in five years where does she see herself? “That’s an interesting one. I won’t be competing in badminton anymore, or not seriously anyway. I’m not sure what career path I’ll take but I’d like it to involve passing back the things I have learnt over the years by doing some coaching, although not full-time.”
Cann remained reserved when asked what her predictions would be for London 2012. “I wouldn’t like to say. It’s so hard to predict in such a huge event as strange things often happen.”