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Picture: BWF
To Man-Kei: had so much fun on and off-court
Date: 5/2/2020 1:48 PM
Published by : BEC Staff

Belgium has great hope of glory at the upcoming Paralympic Games in their female WH1 star, To Man-Kei. Let us get to know her. 


To Man-Kei, 34, was Belgium’s only representation at last year’s World Championships.  To has been able to find consistent form over the past twelve months, reaching the quarterfinals in Thailand, Canada and Dubai. After a good result in Peru, the last qualification tournament player before Covid-19, To found herself in the top 10, and another good performance may sneak her into the Olympic qualification spots. 


As we are all now playing the waiting game, we get to know To Man-Kei better. A player who is one of the more experienced heads on the circuit shares her best memory as a Para badminton player. 


- Last December and January I have been training in Thailand with the national team. It was an amazing time. Every day we trained and had so much fun together on and off-court, not as opponents but as friends. For a very short time, a Hong Kong player which is also a good friend of mine, and his coach was there as well. He is one of the best players on the Para badminton circuit. So, I get the chance to learn from so many good players and coaches during that period. 


- What came next makes this memory even more precious. Right after the training camp, we had to compete at the Brazil Para Badminton International 2020. In the quarterfinal, I needed to play against number one seed and former world number one, Valeska Knoblauch of Germany, who I played many times in the past and only won one game. So, I was doubting whether I could go to the next round. But it was important to go further in the tournament if I want to get qualified for the Paralympic Games.


- The first game I lost against to her, which was normal I thought. But because of the bad condition of the hall which played in my advantage in the second game and probably also in the third one, and I was staying calm and concentrated, so surprisingly it was me who managed to take the victory of this match. Unbelievable.


Something happened

A very normal part of being a professional athlete is to take the good with the bad. It is how a competitor deals with tough losses, dusts themselves off and gets back to training even harder that makes champions. To Man-Kei speaks about her biggest disappointment.


- It would be the Irish Para Badminton International, in June 2019. I was in the group with the number three seed Sarina Satomi of Japan and Israeli Nina Gorodesky. My first match and an important one was playing against Nina. I know I needed to win to get to the next round. The chance winning against Satomi was much smaller. Last time I played against Nina was three years previously and I was still green then, so I lost that time. But this time I felt I had a good chance, because in the meanwhile I had improved, and I thought our level was similar. Also, I was injured for a year and made my comeback in October 2018. Since then, I always could get out of the group phase and go to the next round. So, my expectations in Ireland were very high. But unfortunately, I lost against Nina in three games. The first game I won with confidence, but in the second, something happened, I was doubting and lost my confidence. In the end, I lost the match. The disappointment was really big because my expectations were that high as well.


From tennis to badminton

To Man-Kei was very sporty before her injury and explains how she came to settle on Para badminton. 


- After my injury, the only sport I did was swimming, but that’s a difficult one to talk or be in contact with other people. So, I looked for another sport. My first idea was playing wheelchair tennis because I played tennis in my youth. But I was curious about what sports Belgium offered. And then I bumped into Para badminton on the internet. I thought it is similar to tennis, but an indoor sport and maybe less intensive. So, I gave it a try and surprisingly I fell in love with the sport and I still do. An important point, it is certainly not less intensive than tennis!


It is without surprise that To’s ultimate goal is to be part of the Paralympic Games once in her life. In order to ensure that To says she wants to be in the top five of the world.


Lastly, it is not cheap to travel and play, To explains how she is able to fund it.


- I was involved in a car accident as a passenger in 2007. So, I was fully insured. Luckily, I am living in Belgium and their social medical system is well funded, so I get an allowance every month which is not that low. Besides that, I receive a monthly salary from my part-time job until last year. With also the support of my federation, I could get my sport funded. Starting this year, I quit my job, because the combination sport/work was not bearable anymore, especially during the year of qualification. Now I am focusing fully on my sport and because of the good results and performances last year, both federations are supporting and investing more in me.

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