By Chia Han Keong
Indonesia has long been recognised as a badminton powerhouse nation. And when the sport was finally included into the Olympics at the 1992 Barcelona Games, there was plenty of excitement in the Southeast Asian country.
After all, it had not won a single gold medal despite its participation in the Games since 1952. Its sole medal up until 1992 was a women’s team archery silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Badminton was therefore viewed as Indonesia’s best chance of landing that elusive gold. And it duly came in Barcelona, but what surprised the populous nation was that it landed not one, but two golds in the sport – in both the men’s and women’s singles events.
There was also a second surprise for Indonesian badminton fans. While the women’s singles winner Susi Susanti was widely viewed then as the best female shuttler in the world, fans had thought the men’s singles gold would be won by then-reigning World Cup winner Ardy Wiranata.
Instead it was his less-illustrious compatriot Alan Budikusuma – who was dating Susanti at the time – who clinched the gold medal by beating Wiranata in the final.
It still made for a great “Golden Couple” storyline, especially after Budikusuma and Susanti were married in 1997. And their double gold-winning effort was celebrated wildly in Indonesia, with a two-hour parade attended by nearly 1 million in Jakarta upon the duo’s return after the Games.
Turnaround of fortunes
Yet, it had been all doom and gloom just months earlier in May, as Indonesia had flopped in the prestigious Thomas and Uber Cup team competitions in Kuala Lumpur.
Susanti alone could not lift a weak women’s team as they lost 1-4 in the Uber Cup semi-finals. Budikusuma, however, came under severe criticism for being upset by Malaysia’s Foo Kok Keong as Indonesia’s men’s team were stunned 2-3 in the Thomas Cup final by the hosts.
“I had thought it would be better to just stop. Because at that point, I wasn't sure myself,” Budikusuma told CNN in a feature interview this year. “But I was helped by conversations with Susi, her parents, coaches and (former Indonesia shuttler) Eddy Kurniawan.
“I was encouraged to return to training. I began to believe that losing cannot go on and on. The most important thing is how to get up from the defeat.”
And so the Indonesian shuttlers arrived in Barcelona desperate to make amends for their Thomas and Uber Cup failures. Susanti began her women’s singles tournament in dominant fashion, sweeping all her opponents without dropping a set enroute to the final, where she faced South Korea’s Bang Soo-hyun.
Budikusuma also hit a rich vein of form, despite not being among the top four seeds in the competition. He too did not drop a set in reaching the final, although he was involved in a tough tussle with Denmark’s Thomas Stuer-Lauridsen in their semi-final clash.
With Wiranata also in the final, Indonesia were assured of the men’s singles gold, and Budikusuma admitted that a big load was lifted off his shoulders. And he was confident to beat his more illustrious compatriot, as he had a better head-to-head record with Wiranata.
Susanti’s final match was before Budikusuma’s final, and a tense Budikusuma was trying to keep tabs on his girlfriend while cooped up in his warm-up area. Things did not get better when Susanti uncharacteristically dropped the first set 5-11 to Bang.
However, Budikusuma said he still had confidence in her, as she would often start slow and grow more dominant later in her matches. Sure enough, Susanti found her touch and fought back to win the next two sets 11-5 and 11-3. Indonesia had finally broken their golden duck at the Olympics.
Started game on a high
Jubilant for Susanti’s historic victory, Budikusuma went into the men’s singles final on a high, believing that, “If Susi can win, I can also win.”
And he did, edging Wiranata 15-12, 18-13 for Indonesia’s second gold at the Games. The Indonesia fairytale couple had succeeded.
Following their marriage and sporting retirements, Susanti and Budikusuma set up a badminton club in Jakarta, as well as a sports equipment company.
They also had three children; when the eldest son was born in 1999, Indonesia was rocked by a series of civil outbreaks and violence. Susanti decided to name her son Laurencia Averina Wiratama, which means “peace” – hoping that he would bring about peace in the nation.