(Photo: Badminton Photo)
Where are they now: Pi Hongyan
Date: 9/20/2020 12:18 PM
Published by : Alan Raftery
Undeniably a legendary player for France, Pi Hongyan left her mark on European badminton, but we ask, where is she now? 

Pi retired from badminton in 2012 after a stellar career. Originally from Chongqing, China, she emigrated at first to Denmark, and then France. The forever unanswered question will be what if she represented Denmark in badminton, would an Uber Cup or two have made its way to Scandinavia?
For France, Pi recorded 20 tournament titles and three finals appearances at the Korea, French and All England Open. She has also proudly won two bronze and one silver at the European Championships, France’s only medals at the event. Her biggest achievement was in 2009 when at the World Championships in Hyderabad, India, she took home the bronze medal. 

After her career, Pi immediately embarked a new challenge and began a Masters in Management of Sport in Marseille. When still playing, she was studying coach education in France. However, this post-career move of full-time study was a big step in her life, as she explains.  

-I was there in the morning and afternoon like all the other students. My colleagues joked that I was the first high-level athlete who was in lectures every day. Also, at that time I was pregnant, so I wanted to enjoy the time when I could not do anything else.
Speaking about the challenges she faced going from badminton being her life every day to studying, and how elements of her professional career helped, she says. 

-First of all, it was a high-level study in French, and I had my doubts at the beginning if I could transfer from sport to study. However, I was given encouragement from the teachers and directors of the university. They also said that if I am struggling then there is always an option to extend the course for two years or more. So, I went into it just trying to do my best, and in this, I took a lot from my professional badminton career. Whatever I do I want to be focused and give 100 per cent of my energy towards it. Even though at the beginning it was really difficult, especially with the notetaking during class and getting through the reading list. But I put the time in and had great support from my colleagues. It is also about pushing yourself and never giving up, this is also what I was doing so much in badminton. Whenever I had any difficulty, I am always driving forward to the end to see what I am capable of. 

Never giving up
This philosophy Pi speaks about is so often heard in high-level sport, but she has managed to apply this in a completely new part of her life. Pi experienced a big challenge towards the end of her study, but as she shares, where there is a will, there is a way. 

-I had to cut my study into two parts, because at the end of my study, after my exam, I had to have an internship in a company. However, I was at the end of my pregnancy and I had a complication which meant I had to be bed-bound for a few months. This meant that I did the internship after giving birth to my son. The internship was in the Marseille City Council within the Sports Department which delivered the project for the Marseille Capital of Sport. This was very interesting for me as I was always curious when playing on court, what is going on behind the scenes? When I go to the tournaments, how is everything organised so well, and how to generate a positive social and economic impact for the city. These studies helped me to understand this world a little more and also to be prouder of such events. 

The French Federation were keen for Pi to become a coach and work towards further qualifications for this. However, for Pi, she was a new mum and wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. Also, her husband is working full-time as a national coach in Sailing, so is working and travelling a lot. As a result, striking the right work-life balance is important. Although, this did not mean closing the door completely on coaching and working in badminton, as Pi mentions. 

-In the evening and some Saturdays, I was involved in the clubs doing some coaching. In 2015, after my daughter (second child) was born, I started working with Babolat. A sponsor who was with me since 2001 throughout my career and beyond. When we stayed in touch and thought why don’t we work together, so I became an ambassador for their products. I also helped with their marketing in China, working remotely. If they want to increase their reach in certain areas in China, I can make the contact with some clubs for them. 

Before Covid-19, Pi would visit friends and family back home once a year. This year it has not been possible. Although, it is given more time to start a women’s singles project with the French Federation. It was identified that the women’s singles in France need some work to match the young promising men’s singles coming through at the moment. Adding more detail on the project, Pi states. 

-We are trying to build up this generation of players from 12 to 15 years olds through regular training camps in Bordeaux. We have been doing this now since for one year, and of course, I am often asked if I want to put more energy into coaching, but the time is still a problem for me. My husband is always busy and based in Marseille where we live, so geographically badminton coaching is more difficult at the moment as the main training centres are in Bordeaux, Paris and Strasbourg.

-So again, it is always the case of finding a good balance between my professional work and family. With Babolat, I am able to work remotely on the project with China. We have had many meetings during this time, and every so often I go to Lyon for one or two days. This is really good for me.

The Pi Hongyan Academy? 
Whenever we witness a player have such a profound impact on a countries sport, it is often the case that we will see them on the coaching bench, nurturing the new generation aiming to reach the same heights. Pi is certainly playing a significant role in this for France but is also juggling many interesting projects, with the training camps, Babolat and of course being a mother. It seems that the special gratification one can get from developing and improving players is something that Pi is warming to when she says. 

-When I coach some leisure players at the local club, giving them advice in the technical aspect of the game and movement, they are very happy and appreciative of getting this knowledge. It makes me feel proud that I am able to aid their game. Every time I go to the Bordeaux training centre to do the training camps, time goes really fast for me, because I very much enjoy working there. So, at the moment, family commitments mean I cannot do more, but maybe one day, if circumstances change, I will be able to increase this part of life a bit more. 

Also, will the future bring the exciting prospect of ‘The Pi Hongyan Academy’? 

-I have also been looking if it is possible to create an academy like Peter Gade, co-operating with the local clubs. However, in order to do this well, it needs to have two or three coaches working together. When starting a project like this, you need to be focused and committed 100 per cent on it. Being a coach for a player, in my opinion, is a great responsibility, as you play a vital role in that player’s career. They have only one career in their life, so they expect you to also be committed 100 per cent at that moment too, where time is such a precious thing. 

What the future will bring for Pi Hongyan, only time will tell. However, one thing is certain, she will be giving it her usual 100 per cent! 

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