Huang Sui – A Story of Sacrifice

Huang Sui, who has been in the top three in women’s doubles almost consistently for the past 5 years, had to retire to be by her father’s side before he […]

ImageHuang Sui, who has been in the top three in women’s doubles almost consistently for the past 5 years, had to retire to be by her father’s side before he passed away, giving up on playing in her home Olympics. Mark Phelan and Ee Lyn Ooi take a look at this sad story.

By Mark Phelan, Ee Lyn Ooi, Badzine Correspondents. Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives) and personal photos.

If there is a player who understands sacrifice it is Huang Sui of China. In October, 2007, the effervescent, smiling Chinese star retired from competitive badminton to return home to care for her dying father, who, earlier in the year, had been diagnosed with cancer. Huang Sui faced then what is probably the toughest decision ever to make for an athlete: to have to chose between her dream – her career and what she’s worked so hard for – and her family. Her decision to retire was based on true family values. Her family needed her and, as she was an only child, she wanted to be there for her family in these hardest of times. She returned home to be at her father’s bedside and to care for him and in doing so sacrificed her chance of Olympic Gold in her home country.

ImageThe “Water Closet” Miracle

Huang Sui’s story began on January 8th, 1982 when she was born in Hunan province in China or, as most people know it, in The cradle of badminton champions.

Huang Sui’s mother often spoke of her daughter not being an outstanding player when she first started to play badminton. But one man changed her life: her Yang Zhiyong saw her potential and began to train and tutor her. Under the watchful eye of Yang Zhiyong, she began to develop and improve rapidly but kept her joyful and somehow nonchalant way of training. One day, Yang locked her up in the bathroom and let her out only when she had promised she would change her attitude. She may have thought then that she wanted to keep being her usual self, but Yang’s strict coaching routine finally brought the best out of the flighty youngster.

Hunan province was a poor area and most families from the province lived simple lives. Huang Sui’s family were no different. They were poor and to provide for a fledgling badminton career required funding so her dad Huang Chuanbiao had to go and work in Zhuzhou in order to pay for training and tournaments. Her mother remained behind at the family home and frequently made the trip to see her daughter at her training camp at the Anhua County Sports School. She used to cycle through the mountain roads in winter to bring Huang Sui food and goodies. Huang Sui always looked forward to her mothers visits but understood the sacrifices her parents made for her and her chosen badminton career.

The International Years

Huang Sui continued to develop and in 1997 she joined the Chinese National Team. She was widely known as a strength player with strong attacking characteristics: a type ideally suited to women’s doubles. On the court, she has a calm disposition, which indeed has got her through some very difficult matches in the past.

Internationally, Huang Sui came to prominence along with her partner Gong Ruina (who would later become the world champion in the singles event) when they were runners-up in the 1998 World Championships and in 2001 she won the Japan Open, the World Championships, and the first of her six prestigious All England titles with partner Gao Ling. She went on to capture more than 25 international titles – the most recent being the 2007 Macau Open – as well as participating in 3 Uber Cup wins, confirming Huang Sui as one of the best exponents of women’s doubles badminton of her generation. She had it all: strength, touch, and a positive spirit which helped her through some tough situations on court. Even so, she remained, somehow, in the shadow of Gao Ling, who is known to be one of the best players – if not the best – of her generation. At the age of 25, ranked as always within the top three in the world, Huang Sui was ready to take on the world at home for an Olympic Gold medal.

ImageIn and Out of Retirement

In March 2007, while preparing for the All England and an attempt at a 7th consecutive title, Huang Sui received news that her father was not well but she was, at that point, completely concentrated on the tournament at hand and paid little attention to the notice, thinking her father’s illness could not be anything serious. She returned home to China to visit her father after injury prevented her from progressing beyond the semi-final in Birmingham and from taking part in the Swiss Open, which was to follow. Huang Sui was surprised to find her father so ill when she got home and it brought the Chinese star to tears. He was brought to the hospital, diagnosed with cancer.

It was at this point that Huang Sui decided to retire from the game of badminton so she could be at home to help her mother look after her dying father. After receiving news that Huang Sui had withdrawn from the national team, Head Coach Li Yongbo and women’s doubles coach Tian Bingyi together with eight other team members, including Gao Ling, Zhang Ning, and Lin Dan, visited Huang Sui and her family in mid-April, 2007. It was after these visitors had left that Huang Sui’s father expressed his wish that his daughter return to the National Team as he wanted to see her become Olympic champion. After much deliberation and discussion, Huang Sui decided to return to the National Team and continue working towards fulfilling both her own and her father’s dream of becoming an Olympic champion. The very next day, she booked a flight back to Jin Jiang and her family were relieved with her decision.

Once back on the team, Huang Sui commenced regular training but she could only talk over the phone to her family and she spent most of her time wondering about her father’s condition. Although this was a burden on her, she continued to apply herself to her game. She had to take responsibility for her decision to go back and felt the need not to let her partner or her team down.

“How could I possibly leave him?”

Gradually her fitness returned and although she missed the Singapore and Indonesia Opens, she returned to competitive action, when along with her partner Gao Ling, she won the Thailand Open in July 2007. Following that, the same pairing won silver at the World Championships in August but it was after the ‘Good Luck Beijing’ Olympic test tournament in October that Huang Sui decided once and for all to stop playing and go home to be with her family as her father’s condition continued to deteriorate at an ever increasing pace.

“I gave up everything and went home to stay by his side, to accompany him and to watch him; but all of it was hopeless. He tried his best to prove he was still healthy and that he could still go to Beijing and watch me play in the Olympics. He didn’t need me to worry about him. He didn’t want me to give up 20 years of my hard work. But how could I possibly leave him? How could I not worry and concentrate on my career? Many times I have asked myself what should I do and what the right thing to do is. I am a human, an ordinary human, a normal human, a simple person. It is fine for me to not get flowers, applause, status and glory; but it is very wrong for me to be emotionless, it is wrong for me to be unable to know what’s right or wrong,” wrote Huang Sui on her blog (the full translation of this blog is in the players’ section)

Image She spent the next weeks by her father’s side and on Dec 4th, 2007 Huang Chuanbiao gave up his fight for life and passed away. His loyal and loving daughter was there at his bedside and as an only child she decided that home was where she should stay to look after and be with her mother. Huang Sui best sums up her own feelings in her blog entry dated the 13th of December, 2007, and it reads as follows:

“It is uncommon for us to not make mistakes in our lives but we can hope that we don’t have regrets. It is most important to be filial. I will feel better if I do so. I was with him through his last days. He did everything to raise me, and finally having me by his side in his last days, I guess he was able to leave peacefully. Dad did not enjoy life in comfort and happiness when he was around but his most treasured daughter was willing to give up everything and come back to his bedside and accompany him through his remaining days. Perhaps it was my filialness that touched God; He took all of dad’s pains. Even the doctor said it was an extremely rare chance, but dad left peacefully. He left by organ failure but not in pain. This could have been Dad’s luckiest experience.”

The professional game of badminton will be a lonelier and darker place without Huang Sui. Her infectious smile brought so much happiness to so many people and if you happened to be in the same hall or venue as her, you probably felt the effect that smile had on all those around her. You just could not help smiling.

Click HERE to read Huang Sui’s last Blog

About Mark Phelan