India loves its Paes-Bhupathi love story, but nothing comes close to the one that bloomed on badminton courts of Thailand. Bodin Isara and Maneepong Jongjit weren’t talking much to each other, for close to a year before the ill-fated 21st of July in 2013. Then all hell broke loose at Richmond in Canada, when the two young Thai Olympians, former doubles partners at London Games 2012, got into an almighty altercation facing each other across the court.
After two verbal spar-offs – “I was rude,” Reuters later quoted Bodin – and Maneepong hurling his racquet at the estranged partner in the course of the final (Maneepong-plus new partner had taken the first game vs Bodin&new partner), Bodin brawled his way into raucous history, to wipe out the radio silence.
Forever. Chasing Maneepong across two adjoining courts on either side, hurdling over the side-boards, almost completing a traffic license-8 on the field of play in his intimidating pursuit, throwing a chair in Maneepong’s direction, Bodin tackled him down to the floor and punched him twice and kicked him before he was restrained.
A two-year-ban would follow in which time he healed his Hulkish fury at home in Phuket, and Maneepong’s battered ear got stitched up. Soon after the ban though, Bodin would plead with the authorities to allow Maneepong (who was also banned for three months for provoking Bodin), to play in the World Championships (August) since the latter had qualified with adequate points and was under the pump mostly because Bodin’s violent chase went viral (July, 2013).
“We’ve been talking since our last fight. In fact we were not talking for a long time before the fight,” Bodin explains, on the sidelines of the Premier Badminton League, where the two are playing on different teams. What’s gotten the shuttle world all warm and fuzzy – until things splinter again – though, is the duo’s decision to start playing together once again.
“He wanted to partner with me. So he went to the association and the coach told me, so I said Ok! I will try. Last time we had got into a fight,” Bodin, now 27, explains. Back at London Olympics where they reached the quarterfinals, the pair of 22-year-olds from scenic Phuket, had been dangerously immature, as their fight (Bodin wouldn’t get into the reasons) blew up, and ended with the sport’s third ‘black card.’
Two other black cards had been handed out before – once for railing against an umpire, and another for a verbal shouting match with opponents’ coach. But the genteel sport of badminton had never seen something like Bodin-Maneepong before. The world body BWF and the Thai federation headed by the late King, had quickly punished the two slapping deserving lengthy bans.
“Now everything is OK back in Thailand,” Bodin says of his repaired equation, “Now we are even business partners. He’s opened an academy and I go there and coach his students.”
Five years after the brawl, the two made the finals of the Spanish Masters last August. Bodin and Maneepong had won the 2010 Asian Games team bronze and also were India Open champs in 2012 in Delhi.
The two had burst on the international scene as a strapping promising new pair winning the World Juniors and the World University Games gold, but the Richmond roughhouse and Bodin’s belligerence, had put the brakes on what was looking like an upward swing. Maneepong, though keen on partnering Bodin through 2015, had withdrawn due to shoulder trouble, and had announced his retirement later that year.
When the two got into a scrap, it had been two Thai teams up against each other. Bodin says he had regretted the fight, served time for it, but had resumed talking with Maneepong soon after as the sword of a ban hung on his partner’s head.
At the PBL, he would partner the goofy Korean Kim Sa-rang for Hyderabad Hunters. “I like Kim. He fights for every shot. I enjoy playing with him, because it gets difficult when both partners take on pressure. I see him enjoy and I also feel relaxed,” he says. “It wasn’t after the fight with Maneepong, it was before we fought that we weren’t talking,” he repeats, a tad wretched still.
But all’s well that ends. And so Bodin Isara and Maneepong ended their tiff and have reunited, preaching that silence cannot be one of doubles pair’s couple goals. Like all stories, the happily-ever-after is a separate unwritten chapter.