Carolina Marin's recovery: 2 psychologists, 2 dogs, ear sensors and 10 hours rehab a day

Spain's Olympic champion withdrew from the Badminton World Championships but steps up her rehabilitation from injury.

By Ken Browne

Carolina Marin is back on court and getting closer by the day to her competitive badminton return.

The reigning Olympic, World, and European champion suffered a devastating anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury on January 29th in the final of the 2019 Indonesian Masters.

But just four months after an operation on her right knee, the long hours, new technology, and mindfulness have the Spaniard closer to a comeback.

I dedicate 10 hours a day to rehabilitation between the physical and technical, with morning and afternoon physiotherapy sessions, and swimming pool work... - Carolina Marin to El Pais on her recovery

And Marin posted on instagram that after 130 days away from the game, she's hitting shuttlecocks once more.

The flamenco dancer who became queen of the badminton court and Olympic champion at 23 is working harder than ever, even though she pulled out of the BWF World Championships in Switzerland in August 2019, almost exactly a year before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"Me and my team has decided that we aren't going to play the World Championship because we are very short of time. The recovery is going well and the knee is running well. So we will wait till the tournaments of September," she said in a message.

She is preparing both physically and mentally to return even stronger.

Right now it's work, rest, recover, repeat.

"I have one psychologist for sport and another for my personal life"

Even singles badminton is a team sport, Marin understands that and uses the plural "we" when talking about plans and progress.

Fernando Rivas coaches Spain's superstar shuttler on the technical and tactical elements of her game with assistant Anders Thomsen, Diego Chapinal is her physiotherapist, Guillermo Sanchez is her fitness coach, Ernesto Garcia is part of the technical team, and Maria Martinez serves as her sports psychologist.

Add to that her personal pychologist Fany Barembaum, head of press Ignacio Paramio Gomez and her representative Ignacio Garcia, and it gives you an idea of just how many people are involved in the making of an Olympic champion.

We might just see one athlete on the court, but there's an entire team behind them.

And Carolina's is 100% focused on the recovery.

Physically things look good.

"In a month we should regain the muscle mass I had on my leg, or even more. I'm feeling eager and motivated," she said in June at a big promotional event.


Mentally Marin has it all under control too.

She told newspaper El Pais on June 4 that besides her physical coaching and fitness team, she has the help and support of two psychologists:

"I've lived in Madrid for 12 years, I came here when I was 14 and have worked with a psychologist since I was 15," said Carolina, who left her hometown of Huelva in the south of Spain as a girl.

That psychologist is Fany Barembaum, a psychologist and psychoanalyst from Argentina who has lived in Spain for 44 years.

These days I have one psychologist for my personal life and one for sport. - Carolina Marin

"I think it's necessary to have that mental help, particularly in such a competitive one-on-one sport," she continued.

"People think that a psychologist is for crazy people but that's not true. It's just a person who can help you in your day-to-day life."

Pain / gain for Marin

That progressive attitude to mental help and health and the support system her team provides is key to Marin's prodigious success.

Her age doesn't hurt either.

She will be 26 on 15th June and is recovering quicker than expected.

Marin also has an incredibly high pain threshold and an unshakable desire for more success.

The entire team helped design the roadmap to recovery, but the Olympic champ is acutely aware of the mental challenges of getting back on the court.

Getting back to her full range of movement will require Maria Martinez' help, "so I'm not afraid with certain movements," she says.

And for Marin, movement is everything.

Her reach, and the way she covers the court, are key to her game - a perfect alliance of power and balance that makes her rivals feel like there are no weak points to exploit.

Carolina Marin injury

"When I heard I had torn my ACL I broke down in tears" Marin told El Pais in April.

Any return from injury is both a mental and physical challenge.

"When the doctor showed me the ligament scan and I heard the word 'torn', I just completely broke down," she added.

"I left the clinic crying, but in the car on the way home I said: 'Ok, this is what it is, tomorrow they operate'."

"Right there I had to change my thinking: if your body is ok, the knee will get better, if you stay here crying and depressed, you'll send negative messages to the knee."

Four months after the operation, that positive thinking is paying off.

Belief in herself and trust in her team sees her rehabilitation right on track.

"I'm really happy with how the recovery is going. My knee is responding really well and everything is within the target dates we set." - Carolina Marin

No Fear

Fear was not a factor before the injury.

And while there's never a good time for a torn ACL, this couldn't have come at a worse moment, when Carolina was back to the top of her game and on a roll.

In August 2018 the Spaniard beat Rio silver medallist PV Sindhu to become the first woman ever to win three world championship singles' titles.

In April she had won an unprecedented fourth European title in her hometown of Huelva.

Victories in the Japan Open and the China Open followed.

The Indonesia Open in January was going to plan too.

Marin was leading London 2012 bronze medallist Saina Nehwal 9-2 in the opening set when her right knee buckled on landing after an unremarkable shot.

She tried to fight on, even winning the next point, but her knee was gone and she knew it.

Even her rival Nehwal, who won the title in Jakarta due to Marin retiring from the game, felt great sympathy: "Not the way I wanted it in the finals," she posted on social media.

The Indian shuttler called the Spaniard "the best player in women's badminton" and wished her a speedy recovery.

Sports psychology's new frontier: Well-being

Now that Spain's shuttle royalty is back working on the court, sports psychologist Maria Martinez is trying to ensure that they don't overdo it.

"I practically live here, I should just pitch a tent outside the door!," joked Martinez to El Pais, at the CAR high performance centre in Madrid, ground zero for Marin's recovery.

"She has extraordinary strength, very high pain tolerance and ability to overcome tiredness," Martinez says, full of praise for Spain's badminton trailblazer.

"Her level of commitment to the challenge is as impressive as her mindset in competition."

"Her personality and way of being had us thinking that she would give as much to her recovery as she does in training; and that's exactly what's happening."

"There are two parts to my work and one of those, the psychological training, continues. We are still preparing the same things for the day when normal training and competition [without crutches and on two legs] resumes."

"Then there's the new part."

"Emotional well-being: we have to be attentive to the emotional signs to prevent any discomfort. An injury is a stressful process for any athlete because there's pain and unpredictable timetables."

"You have to try and make sure that the emotional states stay level to deal with the entire process."

This approach takes a holistic view of recovery with focus not just on the physical, but on everything happening around the recovery, being mindful of how feelings impact the recuperation, both positively and negatively.

Ear sensors

To prevent going too far in the recovery work, Carolina has a sensor in her ear during training sessions which sends signals to a computer.

"It's something that we work on with the fitness coaches, to gauge stress levels," explains Martinez.

"It tells us if we at healthy or unhealthy stress levels that might put the body at risk, if we are asking too much from a training task or not."

So how does it work?

"We take the variability of the heart rate and measure if the body is working coherently, if the nervous system - the sympathetic and parasympathetic - are well regulated."

"The sensor is connected to software that processes the data in such a way as to allow live feedback on the screen."

Sports, science, mental well-being: the new frontier in elite recovery from serious injury.

Carolina Marin's dogs: also helping with recovery

Now she needs to get back to where she was, back to how she felt physically when she was 9-2 up against Nehwal in a major final.

All the physical and mental work aims to get her there.

But going hard at it for 10 hours-a-day makes rest an essential part of recovery.

And Carolina loves nothing more than a chance to relax with her two dogs Thori and Suka, who welcome her home whenever she travels.


Apart from Thori and Kira, there are other distractions in her life too.

Carolina became part of the 'SMARTgirl' team for Samsung, joining actress Blanca Suarez, singer Nathy Peluso, and journalist Sandra Barneda.

Sometimes she hangs with two-time Olympic gold medallist Rafa Nadal too.

A-list company in Spain for the woman who put badminton on the sporting map in her home country.

"We are women with different lifestyles but with one thing in common: we're proud of our achievements and enjoy life without forgetting where we come from," Marin posted on her social media.

But make no mistake, despite the sporting stardom and commercial success, Marin is fully focused on what's next.


The question on everyone's lips is: when will the Olympic champ return?

Carolina withdrew from the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, in August as she has not fully recovered.

She doesn't want to participate, she wants to dominate.

For now it's day-by-day, focusing on the small things, the immediate goals, the tiny victories, putting all the 10-hour days together that slowly build to great triumphs.

Work, rest, recover, repeat.

Everyone in badminton and beyond just wants to see Huelva's history maker back where she belongs:

Holding court with the best in the world.


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