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Badminton's Odd Couple: Opposites attract in brutal 'hobby'

By Chris Murphy and Francesca Church, CNN
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Wed October 30, 2013
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen are a Danish badminton doubles pair
  • They won silver at the London 2012 Olympics and have a string of titles to their name
  • Boe still gets asked if he does badminton as a full-time job by people in Denmark
  • Speed is vital to get around the court and return shots which can reach 185 mph

CNN's Human to Hero series celebrates inspiration and achievement in sport. Click here for videos and features.

(CNN) -- Mathias Boe is smiling, like a lot of people do when he explains that badminton is his full-time job.

Perhaps that mirth would evaporate if those people regularly had to face down a shuttlecock hurtling towards them at a speed of 185 miles per hour.

Or if they came face-to-face with his most treasured possession -- an Olympic silver medal, won with doubles partner Carsten Mogensen at the 2012 Games in London.

"Badminton is very popular in Denmark but it's seen as a hobby sport," Boe told CNN's Human to Hero series.

"After the Olympics we are quite famous here and (people) still often ask us, 'Do you do this for a living?'

"Even though it's popular, and everyone has played it once in their lifetime, they still see it as a hobby."

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A closer inspection of the sport at the highest level should wipe away any lingering smirks.

It can occasionally be hard to keep track of the relentless back and forth such is the breakneck speed at which the world's best operate.

Boe has been attuned to this intense wave of frequency since the age of eight, when badminton drew him in.

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"Badminton is definitely faster than tennis," Boe explained.

"You have strokes over 300 kph (185 mph) so it's an extremely fast sport -- only tennis table is faster. You need to have your reflexes ready when you play because it goes very, very fast.

"The skills that are most important are speed -- even though the court looks small on television it is quite big -- and you need to be quick around the court, and you have to have a very good technique.

"As you can see we don't have the biggest arms but we really have a big smash, a lot of us. I'd say power and stamina are two very important things."

As is, of course, his relationship with his badminton buddy.

Boe and Mogensen were first paired together in 2004 by a coach at the national training center and started a steady climb towards the world number one ranking, which they clinched in 2011.

The duo have won a tranche of titles, including the prestigious All England Championships crown in 2011 -- one Mogensen describes as the equivalent of winning Wimbledon -- but none bigger than their Olympic silver.

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Their success is a testament to their on-court chemistry, and their battle to maintain that level of hunger as they head towards the twilight of their careers.

"One of our things is that we're strong mentally," Boe explains. "There are a lot of things going on between you and your opponent.

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"It's important to look your opponent in the eyes when it gets close in the games and also to believe in yourself that you can be good enough to win tournaments.

"There are a lot of very challenging parts of the game; for me and Carsten it's when we don't have our best day, we need to struggle with ourselves.

"That's extremely difficult because we can be our own biggest opponent ourselves if one of us doesn't feel comfortable, or motivated. So for us now in our senior years we struggle with that, particularly after some of our bigger achievements.

"It created a bit of emptiness afterward and made some of the tournaments a little bit unimportant. That's what we're fighting with."

That motivation still burns bright enough to win titles though, as demonstrated by their recent victory at the London Grand Prix held at the Olympic Park.

They are still formidable opponents for anyone on the 13-event global Super Series run by the sport's governing body, the Badminton World Federation.

But given they dovetail so neatly on court, it is perhaps a surprise to hear their off-court characters are almost complete opposites.

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"Me and Mathias, we are very different from each other, so I think that's a good mix to play at a high level," Mogensen explains.

"We have to talk a lot, find out what we are doing, what we need to practice, talk about feelings.

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"I'm very relaxed. Mathias, he wants everything in boxes, to know today, tomorrow, how we travel, and I'm very relaxed so if we don't practice that today, we'll do it tomorrow."

Despite these differences, the pair are united by the feelings provoked within them prior to a big match -- a crackling tension that helps both Boe and Mogensen hit top gear on court.

"The feeling you have just before a match, I think you can compare it with going into an exam, you are a little bit tense, and a bit nervous," Boe explained.

"But that's also important, it's the feeling you have when you're about to do something that really matters to you.

"You are a little nervous, and you're struggling a little bit breathing, and not that comfortable, but that's important, because it means it matters what you're about to do."

Then, when the winning point is sealed, Mogensen explains what a weight of pressure is lifted off their shoulders.

"It's a huge feeling, when you win the last rally you go crazy, you think of all the tough hours during practice, these small moments are so crazy, you go crazy and celebrate and being very happy," he said.

"It's very difficult to describe, you need to go it on your own to understand how big it is for us to win a tournament or reach an Olympic final."

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