For two decades, Rudy Hartono enjoyed success as the world's best badminiton player. But when age caught up, he had a tough time facing up to the fact that he was no longer a winner. RAJES PAUL has the exclusive interview.
BADMINTON great Rudy Hartono flashed a smile when he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Behind the cheerful demeanour, though, is the story of a superstar whose life nearly fell apart.
After two decades of success and glory as the world’s best badminton player, age and the defeats that came with it were just too much for him to handle.
Rudy, however, found there was something beyond success and fame to remain sane in the world, as he related during our 45-minute journey from KLIA to Eastin Hotel, where he later gave an hour’s talk on “More than Conquerors” during the second anniversary dinner of The Star’s Christian Fellowship.
Looking back at his life, Rudy, 55, confessed that it had been a painful experience coming to terms with the fact that he could no longer play competitive badminton after being in the limelight as a champion for two decades.
Born Nio Hap Liang on Aug 18, 1949 in Surabaya, and the third child of eight siblings, Rudy described himself as a “sports-crazy” lad.
While the family was in the tailoring business and in dairy farming, he was into athletics, swimming, volleyball, football and badminton, which was his favourite.
At nine years old, his talent was evident even as he played on the narrow, cobbled road near his house.
By 11, he was training with a small badminton club set up by his father Zulkarnain in a railway station warehouse. The young Rudy trained here almost the entire day.
Rudy Hartono at his peak
It all paid off. When he was just 15, Rudy left his hometown Surabaya for Jakarta to join the Thomas Cup centralised training centre.
Just before his 17th birthday, he was a member of the Indonesian team that lost to Malaysia in the Thomas Cup Finals in 1967.
His rise to stardom began after he won the first of his eight All-England titles – beating Malaysian and defending champion Tan Aik-Huang. Rudy was only 18.
“As a sportsman, I have always targeted to become a champion –nothing less. As there were no World Championships then, the All-England was considered the pinnacle and my aim and focus were all on that,” reminisced Rudy.
“It was not one or two days of hard work. My first All-England title was a culmination of 10 years of taxing and rigid training. My philosophy was simple: train, train harder, and then train even harder until you win.”
Admitting to being a “man who feared losing”, Rudy said that even during training, he imagined everyone – friends and teammates alike – as his rivals.
“I gave my best in training and the same went for the tournaments.”
But age caught up with Rudy, and suddenly he had to live with losing matches. Unable to cope with the pressure, he wallowed in self-pity and considered himself a big loser in life.
“During my heyday, my main rival was Svend Pri of Denmark. He ended my winning streak in the All-England. The biggest disappointment was at the 1973 Thomas Cup on home ground. Indonesia defeated Denmark 8-1. Unfortunately, the only defeat was mine. I lost to Svend. It was heart-wrenching,” he recalled.
It was in the late 1970s that Rudy really struggled as a player. His last memorable win was over his successor Liem Swie King at the 1980 World Championships final in Jakarta.
“I was surprised to be in the final that year,” he said.
“Swie King was playing very well
and I could hardly beat him, even in training. I prayed that I would not be humiliated by Swie King. Fortunately I won my first world title.”
The win was sweet for Rudy even though it was soured by rumours that Swie King had been instructed to lose the match to give Rudy a farewell victory.
A defeat to Luan Jin in the third singles of the 1982 Thomas Cup Finals against China marked the sad end of Rudy's badminton career. China defeated Indonesia 5-4 to end the latter's four consecutive Cup titles win. Rudy was then 33.
“I was hopelessly depressed. There was no peace in my heart. I wanted to be a superstar all the time and had set high expectations on myself. I wanted more and more. I had won eight All-England titles and I could not accept the fact that I was not winning any more,” he recounted.
“My life was miserable and I was making it even harder for my loved ones, too.”
“There was so much of pressure and I just could not cope,” added Rudy, who married his number one fan Jane Anwar.
Such was the pressure, he said, that he decided not to encourage his son Christopher (now 26) and daughter Christine (24) to take up badminton.
“There would be great expectations when you are a child of a big star. It would be agonising if the expectations were not met. I just did not want to lose direction in life.”
It was during this confusing stage in his life that Rudy found solace in religion.
“Thanks to a preacher, I found Jesus Christ and believed that only God could give me inner peace.
“I have seen God’s miracle before. I prayed for his help and he helped me win my first All-England. I called upon him again during the World Championships and he helped me beat Swie King. Then I thought: ‘wouldn't it be better to have Jesus in my life all the time?’
“Yes, I had depended on myself more to be successful and famous but I found out that that joy does not last long. By depending on God’s strength every day, there is a guarantee of eternal happiness.”
Rudy Hartono during his recent visit to Petaling Jaya where he was the featured speaker at The Star's Christian Fellowship anniversary dinner
The tragic death of Danish badminton legend Svend Pri, who was both a great friend and rival, prompted Rudy to preach about Jesus to others.
“After I accepted the fact that I could no longer be competitive as a player, I took charge of the Indonesian team as an official. During an international trip, I bumped into Svend in Denmark. I heard that he had tried to commit suicide because of family and financial problems. Some of his problems were similar to mine. I told him that my life had been transformed and that I had found peace.
“We made arrangements for him to come to Indonesia. But I waited and waited and after two months, I found out that he had taken his own life. I was devastated. I know God was the only way to help him. That incident spurred me on to tell as many people as I can about Jesus,” he said.
In the last 15 years, Rudy has been active with his church ministry.
God became even more real to him after he survived a scary open-heart surgery in 1998 in Australia.
“I sought a specialist from Australia after delaying for a year. I told him I had waited for God to heal me. He shrugged off the remark and told me that only he could heal me. When I did not stop bleeding during the operation and was unconscious, the same doctor told my wife to pray. And I miraculously survived the ordeal,” he said.
Rudy has been invited by many churches in Indonesia to give his testimony. Three years ago, he became the associate pastor of the Bethel Church in Jakarta.
Despite his activities in church, badminton is still close to Rudy’s heart.
He is an International Badminton Federation (IBF) vice-president and is also currently the All-Indonesia Badminton Association (PBSI) development chairman.
And where many have not been able to handle the descent from fame – actress Marilyn Monroe, Hong Kong singer Leslie Cheung, novelist Ernest Hemingway, and Svend Pri, to name a few – Rudy has conquered his self-doubts. He now knows where he’s headed, and he is even ready to lead others.
NAME: Rudy Hartono Kurniawan (Nio Hap Liang)
DATE OF BIRTH: Aug 14, 1949
FAMILY: Jane Anwar (wife), Christopher (son) and Christine (daughter)
SUCCESS AS AN OFFICIAL: Team manager of the 1984 Thomas Cup team that took back the Cup from China; coached Indonesia's team that won two gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games; team manager of the Indonesian team that won a gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games.
CURRENT POSTS: International Badminton Federation (IBF) vice-president, All-Indonesia Badminton Association (PBSI) development chairman, Bethel Church associate pastor, owner of shoe factory in Jakarta.
1968: bt Tan Aik Huang (Mas)
1969: bt Darmadi (Ina)
1970: bt Svend Pri (Den)
1971: bt Muljadi (Ina)
1972: bt Svend Pri (Den)
1973: bt Christian (Ina)
1974: bt Punch Gunalan (Mas)
1975: lost to Svend Pri (Den)
1976: bt Liem Swie King (Ina)
1978: lost to Liem Swie King (Ina)
THOMAS CUP (FINAL)
1966-1967: lost to Malaysia 3-6
1969-1970: bt Malaysia 7-2
1972-1973: bt Denmark 8-1
1975-1976: bt Malaysia 9-0
1978-1979: bt Denmark 9-0
1981-1982: lost to China 4-5.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (FINAL)
1980: bt Liem Swie King (Ina)
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