(Photo: Badminton Europe)
Small team, big dreams
Date: 9/23/2021 4:14 PM
Published by : Sara Gonzalez Martinez (BEC)
Just like every other team, Tahiti has arrived in Vantaa ahead of the 2021 Sudirman Cup. We have talked to two of their players just days before kick-off to hear what attending such an event means to them.

With a population of over 189,000 inhabitants, less than that of the city of Vantaa where the 2021 Sudirman Cup will be taking place, the island of Tahiti is one of the 16 nations to take part in the big championships. 

- It is a huge opportunity. When we got the email from BWF, we could not believe. We are seeing the stars that we have watched on TV. I can really see it in the players’ eyes, it is amazing, Léo Cucuel said.

Young team
Léo Cucuel is one of the eight players that will be representing Tahiti and will be the oldest in his team at 34, followed by Glen Lefoll, 29. The other six players are not even over 20, making it quite a young team. 

Some of the youngest, such as 14-year-old Elias Maublanc, come with this huge event with big dreams, saying that he aspires to be the best player in the world. Chloé Segrestan, 19, is proud to be playing at the historic championships but also starstruck by some of the players attending.

- We are really happy to be here with the other players. It is amazing to be here with them when we have seen them on TV. Today, we were training with the Japanese team and it is a great experience for us. I hope that one day I can play like Kento Momota, Segrestan explained.

It is all about the experience
Tahiti ventures into this challenging yet surely inspirational adventure by being part of quite a strong team—Group B is formed by Chinese Taipei, South Korea who have won the Sudirman Cup four times before, and Germany that comes from winning bronze in this same arena earlier this year, at the European Mixed Team Championships. 

- It is all about the experience, firstly enjoying but then also trying our best and giving everything on court. We do not expect them to win any matches. We just told them to enjoy it and try their best, and we hope that it will inspire them and motivate them for other events in the Oceania region, Cucuel stated.

It has been a long journey for Tahiti, both in training and preparation terms, but also in relation to the long travel and the logistics of it—especially in times of a pandemic. 

- It has been really difficult. We tried to plan it in advance, but with all the COVID-19 measures, we needed to get everyone vaccinated, sort out the visas… This is basically on the opposite side of the world so it took us two days to get here, but we managed to get here safe and sound, so we are happy to be here, Cucuel said.

An opportunity for growth
Yet, the trip is not over in Vantaa as this is not their last destination for their great odyssey. After the Sudirman Cup they will get a week break before heading to Denmark for the Thomas & Uber Cup. All in all, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this team.  

- Maybe in two weeks time, when we will be in Denmark, we will realise. Now, I am not sure the younger players really understand the magnitude of it. We have some players in the team who are on their first trip outside of Tahiti, so it is mind-blowing for them. It is not only badminton, but everything else is also pretty crazy, Cucuel explained.

With such a wonderful chance to experience two of the biggest international badminton events, we ask Cucuel what this will mean to the mostly young team that will be fighting alongside him on court and what this will contribute to their future as players.

- I expect them to see what it is like to be a professional player, to see what the routines, the obligations, and the lifestyle are. Some of them are still young and they say they want to be the best in the world. Of course, coming from Tahiti and not really getting any matches out of there, it is hard to realise what the path is to be world-class players. I hope this will open their eyes and will make them realise what they have to do in order to really achieve what they want to achieve.
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