Olivia Meier relying on experience to navigate way through Tokyo badminton

Manitoban using familiar elements to wade uncertain landscape

Olivia Meier competes in badminton at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. She has lost her first two matches and will close out group play Friday. CANADIAN PARALYMPIC COMMITTEE

Travelling 9,000 kilometres from Winnipeg, Man. to Tokyo, Japan to play in one’s first para-badminton tournament in 18 months might seem like a daunting prospect to some.

Factor in the pandemic and the fact that the tournament is the first-ever of its kind at the Paralympics and the prospect verges on overwhelming.

That is exactly what 22-year-old Olivia Meier has done, accompanied by her coach of the last five years, Frank Gaudet.

The lone Manitoban representative at this year’s Games is not going into this experience blindfolded, though.

“We were here two years ago for a test event at the venue, so we’re accustomed to the building,” Gaudet said in an exclusive interview with The Toronto Observer before Meier’s first match with Thailand’s Chanida Srinavakul.

“We’ve been here since Aug. 25 and Olivia has been practising every day. We get two hours a day at the practice venue and then yesterday we had 30 minutes at the main venue.”

The Yoyogi National Stadium is not the only familiar element that Meier can take from her experience at the 2019 Hulic Daihatsu Japan Para-Badminton International.

“It’s good because we know (Meier’s first opponent Srinavakul) a little bit, but it’s been 18 months since she’s played in competition,” Gaudet said about the No. 8-ranked Thai player.

“A lot of things can change in 18 months, but there are some things that we know to look for. A player does change over time but a lot of their skills are the same. It’s good because (Meirer) has played her a couple times and she’s had her as a doubles partner.”

The 18-month hiatus may have had an effect on Meier’s second SL4 singles match of the day against No. 3-ranked Norwegian powerhouse Helle Sofie Sagoey, losing two straight games 21-6 and 21-8.

However, her match against Srinavakul was as contentious as one might expect between former partners who have an average margin of victory of just three points in their eight games versus one another.

Meier lost the first game 22-20, answered back in the second game with an identical 22-20 score, then ultimately fell 21-13 in the deciding third game. She was particularly strong in the middle of the match-up, overcoming a seven-point deficit to go the distance in a 22-20 loss, then taking care of business to win the middle frame.

The sole representative for the Canadian team for para-badminton in Tokyo executed her gameplan well, designed to get her Thai competition moving as much as possible.

“If you watch (her match versus Srinavakul), you’ll notice that she’s going to try to push her to the back quite a bit,” Gaudet said, discussing the strategy against the Thai athlete with The Toronto Observer prior to the match. “When the opposition serves to you and you hit a cross-court drop, that’s great, but the person serving will already be at the net.

“So if you execute that cross-court drop shot and get the point, great. But nine out of 10 times you do that you’re not going to get it. We’ve worked on her long clears quite a bit over the last month and a half. When she does that she can set up her opponent to execute that drop shot.”

While Meier doesn’t have a chance to advance to the semifinals, she will be afforded a rare opportunity to play a third game, as her group is the only one with four competitors.

That game will be against No. 16-ranked Australian Caitlin Dransfield at 5:40 a.m. EST on Friday, the only match Meier will have that she’ll be favoured in as the No. 11-ranked player.

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Posted: Sep 2 2021 3:31 pm
Filed under: Sports Tokyo Paralympics