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Friday, May 20, 2022

Danish shuttler’s benefactor is a chilli-tasting musician

Doubles shuttler Clara Graversen gets a unique sponsor — a 55-year-old internet celebrity — known for his viral videos in which he tastes pungent chilli peppers

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai |
Updated: October 16, 2020 3:17:57 pm
clara badmintonClara, 19, rising up the ranks with fellow teen partner Natasja Antoniesen, debuted at Odense's Denmark Open. (badminton photo)

Denmark’s newest doubles shuttler Clara Graversen has a unique sponsor. He is a 55-year-old Danish musician-cum-entertainer and an internet celebrity. Popularly called Chili Klaus, the much-bearded Claus Pilgaard is known for his viral videos in which he goes around the world tasting hot pungent chilli peppers in the company of other famous people.

In Denmark, a country where passion for pastries is as much an icebreaker as the gushing adoration for a long line of smashing shuttlers, food and badminton have a symbiotic relationship. The Danish national badminton squads are funded by well-known butter biscuit makers. Five years ago, a competing brand got into the dough mix, leading to a high-profile player revolt in what’s called ‘cookie wars’.

Clara, 19, rising up the ranks with fellow teen partner Natasja Antoniesen, debuted at Odense’s Denmark Open this week. She made a few heads turn with the unusual sponsor tag on her shirt. Chili Klaus was a departure from the dessert duopoly of badminton backers. Talking to The Indian Express about her all-season Santa Claus, Clara says: “My mother was Klaus’s hairdresser once and they’ve known each other for a very long time. Well, I just asked if he wanted to sponsor me and he agreed. His ex-wife Jette (Torp, also a musician) and he have always been very supportive and follow my career.”

Instant recognition

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Clara believes her sponsor’s name draws instant recognition and might find her some added attention. “It’s an interesting sponsor for sure and it’s a funny one because I’m the only one sponsored by him,” she says.

“The Chili Klaus brand is known all over the world so somewhere that gives me some advantage because people recognise my sponsor and they say ‘Oh Chili Klaus, we know him.’ And in that way they perhaps remember me,” she adds.

Popularly called Chili Klaus, the much-bearded Claus Pilgaard is known for his viral videos. (ChiliKlaus YouTube)

While Clara constantly updates her celebrity sponsor, she’s waiting to grow in stature to invite him for her match someday. “They always check up on how I’ve done and how I’ve been. But Klaus is a very busy man and he travels a lot. With chilli. But also sometimes with music. It’s difficult to find time but I know he supports me a lot,” she says. Chili Klaus started with gigs as a band member of several Danish rock bands. But it was his enduring love for chilli—which he grows himself alongside tasting them and bottling them in sauces—that multiplied his fame.

Swipe of spice

Clara says she loves her swipe of spice but will need to earn her spot on the chilli eating show. “I like spicy food and I do like chilli with my food but I’ve never done that chilli tasting with him before. The hottest thing I’ve had is a sauce he made himself with the Carolina Reaper (the spiciest on the Scoville scale of hotness of chilis). I just mix it with my food and it’s so hot that I haven’t really been eating that much with it,” she says.

Clara started badminton at age 6 in Aarhus accompanying her sister. “I was always playing with her in the hall and just decided to start myself,” she recalls. Antoniesen is a close friend off court. “She’s one of my best friends so playing with her means a lot to me. We are very different players, she’s mainly in the back and I like to play in the front,” she explains.

The two got into the draw because of the several withdrawals.

“We just knew it was a huge opportunity for us to come in and see how far we are from the world’s best players and even though they all aren’t here. We showed in the first round (playing Russians), we have no pressure and we can just play and see how much we can tease the better players,” she said.

Besides Clara’s eye-catching sponsor logo, the other noticeable aspect of the pair is their pearl danglers. “The earrings are actually from my mother’s salon and she sells them. Both of us really like those pearls so we play a lot wearing them,” she says. The close friends provided support to each other during the pandemic break.

“At first, when Denmark was totally locked down it was difficult to stay motivated but Natasja and me facetimed a lot to keep motivation up. When we could finally get back on court we had missed it so much that we wanted to play even more than before. It was good to miss it like we did. It means more now. To get to play,” Clara says. While developmental badminton is set to struggle throughout the world with funding cuts in junior programmes, Carla is grateful for her chilli-biting benefactor.

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