A star in the making indeed, from Switzerland. In the recent Malaysian open, she beat Li Li of Singapore, 21-15, 23-25, 21-18 in the first round. Just so you know guys Li LI won the 2002 commonwealth women's singles. She was born in China then moved to Singapore. She was beaten by Wong Mew Choo in the second round 21-14, 21-10 and that wasn't bad at all.
Hope to see more of her in the future
The place is a town called Brig, near Bern where a 12-year-old girl watched a group of shuttlers involved in a social game at the BC King Olympica and immediately started dreaming of playing in the Olympics one day.
BC King was run by her father’s (Robert Cicognini) cousin Hans Fux and it became the venue for her early development as a talented junior in Switzerland.
Nine years later, Jeanine Cicognini’s dream has been virtually achieved and barring injuries or illness, she will be competing in the Beijing Olympics this August.
Cicognini is currently a four-time Swiss national champion and ranked World No 47, a position which should seal her a place in the Olympics.
Realising that she can’t go far if she continued to train in Switzerland, a country known for tennis, football and winter sports, Cicognini, then 17, headed to Denmark where world class shuttlers from Europe and other parts of the world train and compete in a thriving professional league.
Cicognini’s first destination was the International Badminton Academy (IBA) run by former international Michael Kjeldsen in Brondby where she got the opportunity to train with some of the most talented players in Denmark.
Cicognini also received an opportunity to play in a club called Brondby Strand but recalls how she faced difficulties matching far superior players in Denmark.
“It was an eye opening experience. I was nowhere near their standard but nevertheless, my time in Denmark is where I understood the grueling world of badminton and the kind of sacrifices I have to go through to become a quality player,” says Cicognini.
“I never gave up and kept working hard and help came in the form the Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) World Training Centre in Saarbrucken to continue my Olympics dreams. And in June 2006, I moved again and this time it was to Germany.”
Cicognini was among the fortunate players who were included in the Olympic Solidarity programme and this meant that she will be based at the Saarbrucken centre until August, 2008 and this would provide the perfect platform to qualify for the Olympics.
Saarbrucken is one of the 20 Olympic centres situated in Germany and has top class facilities to fulfill the needs of an international player like Cocognini.
The facilities include indoor courts, strength and conditioning gymnasium and accommodation equivalent to a four star hotel. Besides these, there is also top class food prepared with the supervision of qualified sports dieticians.
Sports science and medical expertise are provided by the Saarbrucken Centre while fitness tests and even health insurances are provided for the 17 international shuttlers who have received Olympic Solidarity scholarships through their respective National Olympic Councils (NOCs).
The High Performance Support Services are provided by Professor Kindermann for Sports Medicine, The Olympic Training Centre service team and the Itanis Sports Physiotherapy team, and Cicognini knew she was in good hands.
On top of that, there are three top class coaches Ge Cheng of China, Per Hendrik Croona of Sweden and Kim Ji Hyun of Korea, all established internationals in the 90s, and Cicognini’s progress started soon.
Cicognini came under the tutelage of Ji Hyun and the former international also has several promising players like Simone Prutsch of Austria, Larisa Griga of Ukraine, talented junior Olga Konon of Belarus and six other players to train with.
“It was like my second home and I don’t have to go anywhere outside to fulfill my daily needs. Everything is provided at the Saarbrucken centre and it made it a lot easier for me to focus on my goal,’ explains Cicognini.
“We even have laptops with internet services in our rooms and we can serve the net and communicate with friends and family when we are bored.
“The main thing is I have a good coach in Ji Hyun and I have been gradually showing improvement.”
Cicognini’s first major breakthrough was reaching the quarter-finals of the Bitburger Luxembourg Open in 2006 and there were more encouraging results last year.
She reached the semi-finals of the Mauritius Open and Belgian International and went one step better by finishing runner-up in the Hungarian International Championships but her best achievement was reaching the last 16 stage of the Swiss Open in front of her home crowd when she received a wildcard to play in her first Super Series event.
Later came the opportunity to play with the best again when she competed in the 2007 World Championships at the Putra Stadium in Kuala Lumpur but lost in the first round.
However, Cicognini’s rise continued when she came through the Qualifying rounds of the 2008 Malaysia Open to reach the last 16 stage of the Super Series for a second time.
Cicognini went through a tough qualifying round where she had to play three matches in one day and she clinched her biggest victory by defeating 2002 Commonwealth Games champion Li Li of Singapore, the World No 25, in the first round before eventually losing to China Open winner Wong Mew Choo of Malaysia, the World No 8, in the last 16.
Cicognini described the Malaysia Open as her best achievement and she is looking forward to building on the momentum.
Her encouraging performances since 2007 have also helped her to improve her world ranking, which was outside the top 90 in 2006. She is, however, currently ranked World No 47.
“I never thought that I would be able to play in the Olympics one day. It’s a dream come true and in another seven months, I should be there,” said an excited Cicognini during the Malaysia Open.
“It is the biggest sporting event in the world and just being part of that is a great feeling. Playing in the Olympics is my ultimate goal and I also want to achieve a personal milestone, which is to break into the top 10.”
Breaking into the top 10 may be a tougher task for Cicognini at the moment but if she can continue producing results on a consistent basis, it is a possible target over the next two years.
Cicognini’s life at the Saarbrucken Centre will come to an end after the Beijing Olympics and she will have to start looking for another training base after that.
However, Cicognini has no intentions of slowing down and if she is not attached to the Saarbrucken Centre, she will battle on until the she reaches the top 10 goal.
Image caption: Jeanine Cicognini expects to gain a lot of experience at the Beijing Olympics (EQ Images)
Jeanine Cicognini, Switzerland's women's badminton champion, could cause a few surprises in Beijing if she can keep the injuries at bay.
Claude Heiniger, the two-time Swiss badminton champion, cites Cicognini's mental strength as one of her main advantages in the world's fastest racket sport.
But "Cico", who is robust and pugnacious on court rather than light and graceful, also has a solid technique: she became Swiss champion at only 16.
The world number 47 – and the only Swiss badminton player, male or female, in Beijing – is now following in the footsteps of Liselotte Blumer.
Blumer won the Swiss women's champion every year between 1973 and 1987, gold at the 1980 European Badminton Championships and could defeat many top-level men.
But Heiniger dismisses medal talk for the 21-year-old Swiss women's number one, who he says is still working her way to the top. She is making solid progress, but needs to work even harder to have a chance of beating the world's best, especially the Chinese medal favourites.
In Beijing everything will depend on the draw. Heiniger believes that with a bit of luck Cicognini could win one or two matches, but it is going to be very difficult to make it past the quarterfinals.
He says she is currently capable of beating players ranked around 20 in the world, but in a couple of years Cicognini could break into the top ten.
However for that to happen she is going to have to look after her body. She has already had problems with her knees and back, but she says she is in good shape for the Olympics. No illusions
"I always dreamt of qualifying," Cicognini says. "I feel really good. I've worked hard both on court and on my fitness. Unless I get beaten by one of the top, top players, I'd hope to get past the first round."
Cicognini is not however under any illusions. "I'll learn a lot in Beijing. I'm still young and the medals are not for me yet. My main aim is to be in the top 20 when the London Olympics come around in 2012."
In order to improve her preparation, she left Switzerland and spent three years in Denmark, a leading light of European badminton. That was followed by more than a year in Germany, at the international badminton federation's training centre.
The federation is working hard to nurture a few European talents who can break into the Asian-dominated sport. Return to Switzerland?
Strengthened by her experience in Beijing, Cicognini could return to Switzerland to pursue her career and train under the aegis of the Swiss badminton federation, although she says diplomatically that she hasn't taken any firm decisions.
However, for three years Swiss Badminton has supported Cicognini and enabled her to develop her talents – and she will continue to be pushed to reach the peak of her sport.
"In particular in Bern, with our national coach, she could benefit from a much more personalised training than in the big European centres," said Heiniger.
Whatever happens in Beijing, Jeanine Cicognini will keep her feet on the ground. One thing at a time: Beijing – and then the world!