Ami Afriatni & Sandy Pramuji
Less than three weeks before the 2012 Olympics start, Indonesia’s badminton team was hit by uncertainty over whether head coach Li Mao had left the training camp for good.
Several shuttlers said on Monday that the 52-year-old Chinese man said goodbye to everyone in the national training camp in Cipayung, East Jakarta, last week.
Li became the country’s badminton first foreign coach when he signed a three-year deal in January last year.
“Li Mao approached every shuttler in the camp before Wednesday’s training session and thanked us for our cooperation during his stay,” said Adriyanti Firdasari, who will compete in the women’s singles in the London Games. “He said he was going back to China but did not say whether he’ll be coming back here.”
Men’s doubles specialist Bona Septano said Li was not likely to be coming back.
“He said that he wanted to quit without elaborating on the reason. However, I heard that PBSI [Indonesian Badminton Association] chairman Djoko [Santoso] is still trying to keep him at least until the Olympics,” Bona said.
But PBSI vice chairman I Gusti Made Oka dismissed all the speculation, saying that the coach would continue with his job at Cipayung.
“Li asked for a leave to visit his father who’s sick and dying in China,” Oka said. “I don’t know when exactly he will be coming back, but he’ll be back at the camp before the Olympics start.” He added that during Li’s leave, men’s single coach Agus Dwi Santoso would take over.
Despite the PBSI’s explanation, Li’s sudden departure prompted surprise given recent criticism of the country’s shuttlers, who have struggled in recent major international tournaments.
Li was among those blamed for the men’s and women’s teams failures at the Thomas Cup and Uber Cup, respectively, in May. Both teams fell to Japan in the quarterfinals.
After the surprise exits, 26 local badminton greats petitioned the PBSI to stop the rot. One of seven points in their petition was questioning the appointment of Li and his Malaysian assistant, Wong Tat Meng, to the national team.
Li began his coaching career with the Chinese men’s singles squad in the early 1990s, before moving to South Korea in 2000 to coach Lee Hyun-il and 2004 Olympic silver medalist Shon Seung-mo.
Five years later, he went to Kuala Lumpur to coach the men’s singles players of Malaysia, helping Lee Chong Wei on his way to his current status as world No. 1.
Li left Malaysia abruptly in 2007, saying he could not bear the lack of unity among players. He returned to South Korea to help rising star Park Sung-hwan. Li did not extend his contract with South Korea when it ended in December 2010, accepting an offer to come coach in Indonesia.