(Photo: Jere Kokko)

Pontus Jäntti: If you want to be a top badminton player

10/23/2020 11:07 AM |  BadmintonEurope.com |  Alan Raftery
Next week, Europe’s top young talent will descend on Lahti, Finland, for the 2020 European Junior Championships with one common goal, to make a name for themselves. Hear from a former EJC Champion to learn how it can be done. 

Finland is proudly hosting the event for the third time since the birth of the event in 1969. Throughout the seventies and eighties, the gold medals were dominated by three countries, Denmark, England and Sweden. One man who broke this trend was local Finnish hero, Pontus Jäntti, who won the 1987 men’s singles gold. 

- The world was quite different then than today. It was in Warsaw, Poland, and I was seeded number one. I was expected to win so I could feel the pressure, Jäntti remembered. 

Matches started well for the Fin, but in the semifinal, he was struggling against Thomas Madsen from Denmark but managed to win it in three games. In the final, against Michael Sögaard from Denmark,  Jäntti played with confidence and won in straight games. 

- After winning I was very happy and also relieved to have handled the pressure of being the favourite. Winning the Europeans had been my goal for many years, so it felt very good, he reminisced. 

Juniors to Seniors 
Moments like these are thrilling for the player, but the significance of the potentially life-changing event may not sink in until much later. For Jäntti, he can talk in hindsight about how this moment, which took place 33 years ago, shaped his career. 

- It was one step on my way to the senior circuit. With the title, I also got quite a lot of media coverage in Finland and that made it easier to get some sponsors. With the support from my sponsors, I could start playing professionally and could travel to tournaments and training in Europe and Asia. Badminton was at that time still quite a small sport in Finland and it was essential to travel abroad not only to tournaments but also to find some good training partners. 

Still to this day, Pontus Jäntti is the only Fin to win gold at the European Junior Championships. Asked how he feels about this, he thoughtfully responds.

- Of course, I am very proud of that and as years go by, I have started to appreciate the title even more as I have noticed that it is definitely not easy to achieve it. At the same time, I hope that some Finnish player would win the title in the future as I think it would bring Finnish badminton a lot of good publicity and could motivate young Finnish players. 

This could perhaps change in 2020, with talents such as Joakim Oldorff seeded number three in the men’s singles and Nella Nyqvist, who won women’s singles gold at the 2020 European U15 Championships and is coming into the tournament aged just 14. 

Enjoy the journey 
Five years after this EJC victory, Pontus Jäntti went on to represent Finland at the Olympic Games in both 1992 and 1996. 

- Naturally, it is every athlete’s dream to represent his/her country at the Olympics so I was happy that I could do it twice. As I also wanted to succeed not only participate, I wasn’t however totally pleased with my results. As a badminton player, the whole experience is quite different than normal tournaments as there were so much more media and hassle, so it was maybe harder than normal to concentrate on your own game.

The young superstars who will emerge from Lahti, Finland, will likely have to deal with similar pressures in their bright futures. There is much excitement ahead of the tournament, however, for Jäntti there is an added reason to be looking forward to the occasion. 

- I am very happy that the EJC is organised in Finland this year despite the COVID-19 situation. Of course, it is sad that spectators are not allowed to be part of this, but it is important that at least the players have a chance to participate. What makes me even more excited is that my son Robin is also representing Finland this year. He is playing doubles and mixed doubles and I hope it will be a nice experience for him. 

Advice from individuals who have been through these experiences before and come out strong the other side is invaluable. The message that Pontus Jäntti shares to all European Juniors playing next week is:

- I hope you can enjoy the whole experience and have also fun on (and off) court, despite the restrictions. If you want to be a top badminton player, it is a very tough job that requires a lot of work 24/7. When I was young, I think I sometimes did too much, too soon and too seriously, so remember to pace yourself and enjoy the journey!

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