Doubles teammates faced off to decide the winner of the first point, game and match in Paralympic badminton history

Valeska Knoblauch defeated her fellow German Elke Rongen on Wednesday. The two team up on Thursday in doubles.

Valeska Knoblauch at Tokyo 2020 (@badmintonphoto)
Valeska Knoblauch at Tokyo 2020 (@badmintonphoto)

Germany’s former world bronze medalist Valeska Knoblauch etched her name into the history books at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Wednesday as she won the first point, game and match in Paralympic badminton history.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced in 2017 that a program of 14 gold medal badminton events - seven men’s, six women’s and one mixed - would be added to the Paralympic program for the first time at Tokyo 2020. The Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which has already staged to the popular wheelchair rugby event, is divided into four courts, two for standing classes and two for the wheelchair classes.

Cologne-based Knoblauch, 30, defeated her compatriot Elke Rongen, 51, on Wednesday evening 21-7, 21-8 in the women’s Singles WH1 event in just 21 minutes.

Knoblauch and Rongen are actually doubles teammates and will link up on Thursday to face Chinese pair Liu Yutong, the 17-year-old prodigy and 19-year-old former world champion Yin Menglu in a group B match in the women’s doubles wheelchair event.

With a razor-sharp focus on her competition, history-making Knoblauch was not aware of the famous feat she recorded on the first day of action in the sport’s Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020.

“That feels pretty good, actually. I wasn’t aware of it. It feels pretty amazing then.

“I was very nervous. It’s so different to other tournaments. It’s a little bit more stress, many people are running around. Everything is new so we have to learn how to focus on ourselves and not be affected by our surroundings.”

The University of Cologne student took up para-badminton at the age of 18 after suffering a fall from a window at school at the age 14 which left her with spinal cord injuries.

“Before the accident, I loved to dance but dancing in a wheelchair was never an option for me. I tried basketball and table tennis in rehabilitation but it didn’t catch me like badminton. Badminton I just liked from the beginning. It was also the people I started with who made me like it a lot. I like the challenge of controlling the wheelchair and the racket.”

Knoblauch wished that she hadn’t been paired with her countrywoman and doubles teammate and that it came as a shock to her.

Valeska Knoblauch about to serve at Tokyo 2020 (@badmintonphoto)
Valeska Knoblauch about to serve at Tokyo 2020 (@badmintonphoto)

“It’s not my favorite, actually. I wish that we weren’t in the same group. In international tournaments it’s not possible to be in one group for the singles, so it was a little shocker to be in the group together.

“Maybe you play different against your doubles partner. It’s insane, so many same countries are in one group, it’s crazy.”

The product of club’s SC Union Ludinghausen and RBG Dortmund has medal aspirations in Japan but is keeping a professional outlook on her tournament and upcoming singles and doubles games.

“It would be a dream come true. It’s the biggest event that we can imagine but I’m trying to think match-by-match and then we will see how far I will come.”

Knoblauch has a testing schedule ahead of her on Thursday as she’ll team with her singles tournament victim Rongen to face the aforementioned Chinese duo in the morning session before going up against Swiss pair Cynthia Mathez and Karin Suter Erath in the afternoon.

The German contender will then return to singles duty in the evening session against Suter Erath.

Badminton’s first Paralympic medalists will be crowned on September 4 and 5.