Monday 24 July 2017

Good Evans aiming to keep on Rio roll for Euro test

Scott Evans. Photo: Sportsfile
Scott Evans. Photo: Sportsfile
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

A lot of people still greet him with a sniggering "sure I didn't recognise you with your shirt on!" but Scott Evans doesn't ever take umbrage.

Those viral videos of his torso-baring celebrations at last year's Rio Olympics still threaten to over-shadow his historic sporting achievements.

His epic first-round comeback against a highly-ranked German made Evans the first Irishman to win an Olympic badminton match.

He then beat a Brazilian in front of a baying home crowd and it took Denmark's European champion and eventual bronze medallist Viktor Axelsen to oust him in the last 16.

Is it not a bit annoying then to be remembered primarily for the so-called 'Full Evans'?

"No, I think it was good because Irish people can relate to badminton now. They saw the funny side of it but also saw the passion that I have and what a serious physical sport badminton is," he insists.

Truth is, that first unplanned strip was about far more than winning that game.

The Dubliner left home at just 16 to base himself in Denmark, the hot-house of European badminton.

Hypnotist

He's been ranked as high as fourth in Europe and 23rd in the world, and come through several career crises, not least 2011, when he got one of his sport's rare black cards and disqualification for verbally abusing an official in Norway, an incident that led him to working with hypnotist Keith Barry to try to sort out his aggression and inability to deal with defeat.

Over a decade later he put his body "through hell" to make his third Olympics.

If he'd another first-round exit he wouldn't be facing a Croatian in the opening round of the European Championships at Kolding in Denmark today - he would have quit.

"I've shown countless times that I can beat some of the top players but not consistently enough and consistency is the most important thing," he admits.

"I turned 29 in September and, in the lead-up to Rio, I was constantly asking myself if, at my age, I could continue to improve. Rio has given me the self-belief that I can, once I have a good set-up and get things in the right balance."

It also improved his lot financially as his Sport Ireland grant jumped from €12,000 to €20,000, though it didn't yield any new sponsors and he's currently without an equipment deal.

Yet Evans is very happy with his current work-life balance in Copenhagen where his Danish girlfriend runs the fashion line they set up together and he still concentrates on his badminton career, training more or less four hours most days.

"I train with a club here which covers things like the cost of shuttles which, over the year, would be crazy, and I also get to train 10-15 days a-month with the Danish team," he explains of a privilege extended to few outsiders.

That doesn't mean his Danish mates will hold back in major championships.

Axelsen has since become world No 2 and if Evans wins today's opener he'll face Anders Antonsen, the latest rising star off Denmark's conveyor belt. But Rio taught him lots, not just mental fortitude.

"If I get through and play well I think I can beat him," he says. "It's his first Europeans and I've had plenty of experience at them. I've had some injuries post-Rio and not competed since the Irish Open final in December but training's gone really well and I'm ready for it."

Donegal siblings Chloe and Sam Magee, who reached last year's European quarter-finals, also open today against a Dutch pair in the mixed doubles and the Irish team also includes Joshua Magee and teenagers Rachael Darragh and Sara Boyle.

Irish Independent

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