Scott Evans does not demur when you suggest he has sometimes been his own worst enemy. In fact, he agrees wholeheartedly.
A complex individual, Evans is wonderful company, friendly and generous with his time. But there is a darker, brooding side to the Dundrum native that induces a sometimes self-destructive, or at least self-hindering, degree of introspection.
He is Ireland’s greatest ever badminton player, the first male from these shores to play in the Olympics when qualifying for Beijing eight years ago.
Just 20 then, he had already travelled a road of considerable sacrifice, having left home at 16 for the European hub of badminton in Denmark to pursue excellence. Now eight years later, much has changed, not least in terms of the high-performance set-up of the sport in Ireland. But some things stay the same. Like Chloe Magee on the women’s side, he is still No 1 and competing in his third Games.
Donegal star Magee, in her third Olympics, has a tough opening group game against China’s Yihan Wang today at 1pm.
Having endured plenty of bad luck in major championship draws in the past, including being pitted against world number one and Olympic champion Lin Dan at London four years ago — Dan went on to retain his title and is back for more — Evans has at last, been dealt a decent hand.
This time, world No. 14, Marc Zweibler is the marquee player in Group K. The 28-year-old could not have asked for much better and if he can beat the German tomorrow, will have a game against the group’s lowest-ranked player, Ygor Coelho De Oliveira for a place in the last 16.
Even though the Brazilian will enjoy considerable hometown support, it is a mouth-watering prospect. He has been through the mill though and life after London in particular, has not been easy, particularly as he broke ties with his “father figure, coach and best friend” Jim Laugesen after nearly eight years.
“Because we spent so much time together, we started to have a lot of arguments, disagreements,” Evans explains.
“I wanted to do other stuff, he wanted me to do his stuff and after London we decided that it was best for both of us that we went our separate ways.”
With “one of the best players ever in men’s singles” Peter Gade becoming national coach in England, Evans decided to train there, using up his savings as he commuted from Denmark.
That lasted until Gade got the national job in Denmark and they worked together very successfully as Evans’ world ranking rose to 23.
But Gade got a job in France and since then, he’s been pretty much on his own in a coaching sense.
“I’m old enough to know what I want to do myself but if the motivation is not there one day you don’t have someone to give you the kick up the arse.
“I’m the one that has to organise my training, organise shuttles; if I’m injured I have to organise my own treatment. That hit me hard. Big time. Because I wasn’t getting as much treatment as I used to be, massage and all that, I started to get more injuries.
So I’d train for about four weeks and I’d get a niggle in me knee, or my ankle, or back and shoulders.”
It all started to pile up and with money a serious problem, his form, confidence and rankings plummeted.
“I feel like sometimes, the more it’s happening to me – of course I find ways to deal with it but it knocks me even more every time it happens. And of course I’m not getting younger either.”
There was a four-week period in January and February where he could not swing a racket due to a shoulder injury.
He took the time to write some thoughts down on paper and worked a few things out. Badminton Ireland have provided important support too.
“It’s amazing what they’ve created here. You’re going from nothing to these amazing support services.
“You can do everything with the Institute (of Sport), it’s unbelievable and it’s only going to get better.
And the Sports Council are more involved now, which they should be. I’d love to be starting off here now.”
It is so good that he is considering returning home. To do so after realising his considerable potential on the world stage would be something else.
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