Ukraine's Polina Buhrova: Top European badminton junior inspired by Carolina Marín to never give up

The 18-year-old has maintained her level at the top of junior badminton in Europe despite being displaced from her home. Find out why she loves her sport and how Rio 2016 champion Marín inspired her.

4 min By ZK Goh with Sam Friedman
Polina Buhrova
(Picture by BWF/Badmintonphoto by Jnanesh Salian)

It's hard to be the best athlete on your continent while not having a proper home, but that's the reality faced by Polina Buhrova.

The Ukrainian is Europe's top women's singles badminton junior at ninth in the world, but has been unable to live or train in her home country since February when the ongoing conflict there began.

Speaking to Olympics.com at the recent World Junior Championships in Santander, Spain, Buhrova explained of her teammates: "Our team came from totally different countries. Some guys came from Spain, some guys from, I don't know, Sweden, and so many guys are just totally alone in different countries.

"Especially I'm now just going through Europe all the time from tournament to tournament."

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Polina Buhrova competing at the 2022 World Junior Mixed Team Championships in Santander, Spain.
Polina Buhrova competing at the 2022 World Junior Mixed Team Championships in Santander, Spain. (BWF/Badmintonphoto by Jnanesh Salian)

Polina Buhrova: Why Carolina Marín is my inspiration

However, that hasn't stopped her from regaining her ranking as Europe's best junior player, a position she first held in a year ago before dropping behind Lucía Rodríguez of Spain in October 2022.

The 18-year-old explains that she has a constant fire burning in her, inspired by Europe's first women's singles Olympic champion.

"When I was a bit younger, I liked Carolina Marín because she is so similar to my emotional mood," Buhrova says of the Spaniard.

"Not just because of the smashes or some tactics. Talking about her emotional mood all the time, her strategy, her energy, power.

"She never, never gave up. If you watch her matches, it's clear, you can see it all the time."

The Ukrainian's journey in badminton

Buhrova got into the sport almost by accident. Long before Marín became her inspiration by winning gold at Rio 2016, the young Ukrainian had been looking for a way to stay in shape.

"I started my career in school – I was just a bit plumper than now and I came to the sports section to try to be taller and to [lose weight]," she laughs.

"But after this, my coach was really interested in my badminton because I was playing so fast and with emotion."

That emotion served her well as she quickly realised she had a talent for the sport, one that has taken her as high as third in the world junior rankings.

"[Coach] said that I was good at this sport because these were the most important things for Europeans in badminton, so I started to train harder and I saw the good results, good performance," she explains.

But while she had the talent, Buhrova shares that she advanced further than her peers because she always did more.

"I was a bit different from other children; all the time I just tried to be honest with myself and with my badminton. I did whatever I could with my performance."

Polina Buhrova reacts at the BWF World Junior Championships 2022 in Santander, Spain.
Polina Buhrova reacts at the BWF World Junior Championships 2022 in Santander, Spain. (BWF/Badmintonphoto by Jnanesh Salian)

How badminton keeps Polina Buhrova going

Despite the situation at home, Buhrova is focussing on her badminton, with the goal of performing well at next year's European Games in Poland, where there will be Olympic qualification ranking points on offer for Paris 2024.

She is basing herself in Italy in the meantime for tournaments, "because I must prepare for the European Games which will be in 2023."

Through all this, her love of badminton – and the inspiration from Marín – keeps the young Ukrainian going.

"I like badminton because it's so quick and you must think so quickly also. It's about the process of winning when you play a hard match, when you understand the opponent is so difficult for you and you can do some amazing shots, amazing tricks, and at the end you get the end – and this feels amazing.

"Now when I go to tournaments, it's a bit harder because sometimes after tournaments, if you feel a bit upset or sad, you can just go home to your parents, your friends, just relax a bit.

"But now I haven't this opportunity, so I must prepare everything by myself."

That said, the adversity hasn't stopped Buhrova from dreaming big.

"Of course, my dream is to be Olympic champion and not only once.

"I want to be the new legend for European badminton."

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