As the badminton world readies for the biggest event on its 2013 calendar just three weeks away, it is one edition Europe will look on with much anticipation having reaped a record medal harvest at last year’s Olympic Games in London.
With odds stacked against him, Thomas Laybourn shares in a 3-part series how pursuing a world title in Europe takes a whole lot of sacrifices and a little thinking out of the box to approach a badminton career in Denmark, or Europe for that matter. Here is our last part about the last World Champion from Europe.
Part III: Thomas Laybourn – The leftover kid who left a mark in the world
By Jan Lin
Every champion has a story.
In true Danish fashion for Thomas Laybourn, the 2009 World Champion, his was a classic fairytale like H C Andersen’s duckling that was meant to be a swan.
After finally fighting his way into the Danish national team at a relatively ‘ripe’ age of 24, neither Laybourn nor his coach had an idea what he had signed up for.
“Kamilla and I were told by the national coach that we would be good as a pair only because the two of us were the ‘leftovers’!” Laybourn said with a laugh. “But it turned out that our playing styles were a good match right from the beginning, so it’s pretty funny looking back now.”
Their partnership was formed at a time where there was a reshuffle of doubles partners in the Danish camp. Back then, Laybourn focused only on men’s doubles which he saw as his strength, and never thought he was good in mixed doubles.
“Then suddenly I started having some good tournaments with Kamilla”, he mused. “I started to think: ‘hey, I am pretty good at this mixed doubles thing!’”
After a series of accidental crowing glories, Laybourn’s fate as Denmark’s mixed doubles specialist was sealed and his attention to men’s doubles “faded out”.
“Before winning the world title, the first time we became Danish champions in 2005 was the most special win for me. It was a big turning point for us”, he said.
“We won it together after less than a year playing together, and we won it without anyone talking about a possibility of us winning”, he grinned, “but suddenly we just stepped up our level and won the national championships.”
It was at the same time where Laybourn started working with his mental coach, Michael Moestrup, whom he gave a lot of credit to to turning his career around.
“It just came out of the blue really. It was totally weird and unexpected for me that mixed doubles was where I had to prioritise and succeed in”, he admitted.
Then in 2009, the pair bagged the coveted world title in Hyderabad, India. The title had actually come a year or two before he was expecting it.
“It was mission impossible”, he said shaking his head as he dug into his memory.
“We have had some good years before but the field was really strong the year we won and we had to play the world’s top three pairs in our draw”, he explained, “but I think that also helped us to get our expectations a bit down and we could just enjoy and play without pressure of having to win the title that year.”
And when asked if the victory had come as a surprise, Laybourn, who was outspoken about his belief to live by his dreams, was readily introspective.
“Everyone dreams of becoming the world champion no matter how old or how good you are. But there is a big difference between a goal and a dream”, he said.
“When we won I was like ‘Oh my god did I really do this?’ He laughed. “I was kind of surprise but I was also expecting it to happen because I have trained myself to believe and expect it to happen as my mental coach had told me to believe it.”
It was happily-ever-after in every essence of the phrase.
“My mental coach really taught me over the 6-7 years how to get the most out of my life and to learn about myself even better and I’m still doing it now -- I have new goals in life, new dreams that I’m following”, Laybourn said with full of zest.
One of the key things Laybourn wants to do as his ‘new dreams’ is to be a coach – and not just another badminton coach – he is focused on offering trainings and camps to especially those players who are left unnoticed by the system as he had.
“I want to change some things”, he began. “There are a lot of talents running around who don’t get enough attention as the attention is only placed on say the top two players. I was one of those who faded out, and I had to fight myself.”
“The clubs here are doing a magnificent job but there isn’t enough funding so we are not always careful, and have said no to some good talents”, he said. “I want to give some options to those players who were just under the best, like I was.”
“Usually,” Laybourn added, “if you are out of the national system when you are 22 like I was, it’s over and there is no way back in but I had made it through.”
In closing, Laybourn gave credit to a coach of a club in Vanløse -- Tanja Berg.
“Tanja really helped out young second-tier players like me. On top of practising with us, she kept on pushing the national coach to notice me”, he recounted. “It’s the same thing I want to do for the young players now too. I want to give back all that I’ve learnt and pass it on to them. I see myself in them, so it’s really exciting.”
Even as Laybourn’s own fairytale has ended, he is eager to write the fairytale for the next world champion from Europe because every champion will have a story.
And this is a story of hope.
Click here to read Part I "Laying it all down to be a World Champion"
Click here to read Part II "Thinking out of the box to stay in the game"
Article by Jan Lin. Photos by BadmintonPhoto.