PENANG, Malaysia: Six-time world champion Nicol David has owned women’s squash for years and would be a safe bet to bring home Malaysia’s first Olympic gold if she could compete in the coming London Games.
But David, 28, is arguably the most dominant athlete who will be denied that chance as her sport remains an Olympic outsider, frustrating her dreams of some day mounting the medal podium.
“It is so heart-breaking when you know this sport has so much to offer and we have got everything it takes to be an Olympic sport,” she told AFP.
“It is probably the most all-round sport you can find. To be in the game and not see it (in the Olympics) is so sad.”
A Malaysian national heroine, the lightning-quick David has won virtually every title squash has to offer. She is in her seventh year as women’s world No 1, and has dominated like few athletes have in any sport.
With nothing left to prove on the court, David has made squash’s inclusion in the Games a special crusade.
In 2009 she requested the International Olympic Committee accept squash for 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, after an earlier bid for London failed.
But the IOC instead picked golf and rugby — former Olympic sports during the early 1900s — for reinstatement at Rio, leaving 2020 as David’s likely last chance for a medal.
She will be in her late thirties then, but in an interview at the Nicol David International Squash Centre, a facility in her hometown Penang renamed in her honour two years ago, David vowed to stay fit for 2020.
“I would trade my six world titles for an Olympic gold medal,” David said.
“I can’t believe I won six world titles... but to actually have one Olympic (gold) medal, it will be great,” she added, flashing the wide, girl-next-door smile that has helped make her a media darling in Malaysia.
The high-speed racquet game is played worldwide and is an official sport at international meets like the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games.
The World Squash Federation has thrown its support behind David’s Olympic battle, ramping up efforts in recent years to spur global awareness and growth of the sport.
“The players want it and squash enthusiasts all over the world are desperate to see the sport included in the Olympic Games,” World Squash Federation Chief Executive Andrew Shelley said in April.
David first picked up a squash racquet at the age of five. Or at least, she tried to — the wooden racquet was too long for her and dragged along the ground, she said.
A friend’s father stepped in, replacing the shaft with lighter aluminium, making the racquet shorter, and launching the career of one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Standing 1.63 metres (5 feet 3 inches) tall, David has turned her modest stature into an asset, as she is able to run down low balls that are difficult for her taller European rivals to reach.
In November, David was at her devastating best when she beat England’s Jenny Duncalf in just 29 minutes in Rotterdam to become the first six-time women’s world champion.
That came a day after her induction to the squash hall of fame in the Dutch city — the first active player so honoured.
But the Olympic crusade has been less satisfying.
The modest David called her presentations to the IOC for the London and then Rio Games “nerve-wracking” and admitted being near tears when they failed.
But the battle goes on. David travels to promote squash internationally when not competing, and in June she will visit Malawi and Namibia to raise awareness of squash.
The interview over, David took to the court for a workout, ripping the ball at the walls but always in control, her eyes on gold. “We are not going to give up. We still want to push for 2020,” she said.