Dane & now: Poul-Erik Høyer’s Olympic triumph and thereafter

The incumbent BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer capped a superlative individual campaign in 1996 by winning the men’s singles gold medal in Atlanta. It’s been 25 years since and the Helsinge-born […]

The incumbent BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer capped a superlative individual campaign in 1996 by winning the men’s singles gold medal in Atlanta.

It’s been 25 years since and the Helsinge-born remains the only non-Asian man to have stood atop the badminton podium at the Summer Games.

By Bikash Mohapatra.  Photos: Badmintonphoto

Linford Christie was a perfect example for Poul-Erik Høyer.  The Jamaica-born athlete is now known as the only British man to have won gold medals in the quartet of major competitions: the , the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games.

That said, it is also a fact that most of Christie’s major successes happened in the fourth decade of his life, that is, after he had turned 30.  For someone who began playing professional badminton as early as the mid-1980s, success to Høyer came rather late in his career, almost 10 years late.

The Dane was rounding up the third decade of his life cycle in 1995 when he won his first All England title, as well as his first medal (a bronze) at the World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.  When the age factor was pointed out ahead of that year’s IBF World Grand Prix Finals in Singapore, where he was one of the oldest players in the field, Høyer admitted his improvement as a player “has been gradual” but at the same time exuded confidence ahead of the 1996 season.

“I am aiming for the Olympic title.  Look at (Barcelona Olympics gold medallist) Linford Cristie – he is still improving at 35 years old,” the Dane told the media.  It was not that Høyer was being hopelessly hopeful.  On the contrary, he was realistic and willing to walk the walk.  It was a couple of months before results started to pour in.

A 15-9, 16-17, 15-10 win over Thomas Johansson of Sweden ensured a maiden Swiss Open title.  A few days later, the Dane defended his All England title in an emphatic manner, not dropping a game in five matches.  Høyer’s impressive title defense included a second round win over Indonesia’s Hendrawan (2001 World Champion) in the Round of 16, a fairly easy quarter-final win over 1991 All England winner Ardy Wiranata, a semi-final demolition of Asian Champion Park Sung-woo of South Korea and a 15-7, 15-6 mauling of Commonwealth Games gold medallist Rashid Sidek of Malaysia in the final.

The Høyer juggernaut continued at the 15th European Badminton Championships held at Herning, Denmark.  A fairly straightforward 15-5, 15-11 win over compatriot and training partner Peter Rasmussen ensured the left-hander a third straight continental title.

Besides, his heroics helped Denmark to their first Thomas Cup final in 17 years.  In the semi-finals of the team competition in Hong Kong, Høyer trailed by a game and was 1-13 down in the second against Dong Jiong of China.  The left-hander came back strong to beat the then world No.2 6-15, 18-17, 15-11, his win inspiring the Danes to a 3-2 upset of China.

Coming into the badminton competition at the Atlanta Olympics, Høyer was palpably one of the favourites.  Seeded second, the first two matches were easy pickings for the Dane even as the top seed, Joko Suprianto of Indonesia crashed out at the quarter-final stage.  Høyer’s opponent in the last eight was Alan Budikusuma, the defending champion and part of a strong Indonesian contingent that had blanked Denmark in the Thomas Cup final that year.

Surprisingly, it was a no contest, Høyer easing through to the semi-finals with a 15-5, 15-6 win.  Waiting in the last four was Hariyanto Arbi, the reigning World Champion.  The Indonesian had got the better of the Dane en route to his world title in 1995, and had a better head-to-head record (7-2 at that point).  Høyer albeit had got the better of Arbi to win his maiden All England title, and that result ensured ample confidence of an encore.  The second seed won 15-11, 15-6 to set up a final against Dong Jiong, the third seed.

A 15-12, 15-10 win in the final not only ensured Høyer the gold medal but also meant that he had sealed the triumph in an emphatic manner, not losing a game in five matches.

In the final analysis 1996 turned out to be the most glorious year in Høyer’s illustrious career.  It took time to secure his biggest and most memorable win – the Olympic gold medal.

However, when it did happen it ensured the Dane will be remembered as one of the game’s all-time greats.  Legend has it that a superstitious Høyer won all the major titles of his career playing in his old lucky shoes, which according to multiple sources were from six to 12 years old, and were nearly falling apart.

Following a successful career on court the Helsinge-born has also enjoyed an equally successful stint off it.  At their Annual General Meeting (AGM) in May 2013, Høyer was elected as the President of the Badminton World Federation (BWF).  Earlier this May, the 55-year-old was re-elected for a third straight term.  In fact he was re-elected unopposed, signalling continuity at the top of the BWF leadership.  There’s another aspect where the Dane retains continuity and remains unmatched.

Thomas Stuer-Lauridsen won bronze in men’s singles in 1992, the only medal won by a non-Asian at the Barcelona Olympics – where badminton made its debut as a medal sport.  Viktor Axelsen repeated the singles bronze feat at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.  However, standing atop the medal podium in the men’s singles discipline is not something another Dane, or for that matter another non-Asian, has achieved.

It’s been 25 years since that triumph in Atlanta but Høyer remains the only non-Asian man to have won a badminton gold medal at the Summer Olympics.

Bikash Mohapatra

About Bikash Mohapatra

Bikash Mohapatra is a Hamburg-based consultant and writer whose work has featured in various international publications such as the Guardian Network, The Diplomat, Asia Times, Eurasian Review, Stuff.co.nz, The Ascent and The Times of India.