Sisters Stefani and Gabriela Stoeva have traversed the same path over many years – living, training and playing together – so they decided that when it came to university education, they would deliberately take different paths.
The opportunity came about when they decided to enroll for university – which Stefani says she “never expected to happen” – but the suspension of the circuit had thrown up possibilities in their non-badminton life.
“We’re living together, in the hall together, everywhere we’re together. Only for studies we chose different ways. This will be the first time we’ll be doing things separately,” says Stefani.
“I applied to study at the national sport academy. Because I’ve been focussed on badminton for a long time, now it will be like a new thing which I never expected to happen. There are some negative things (about being together all the time), because we’re fighting most of the time, we’re fighting over some stupid things, but this is normal in our sister relationship. Now we’re excited to start university, to do it separately.”
The Stoevas had mixed luck in the months before the suspension of the circuit. They were runners-up at the Barcelona Spain Masters and fell at the opening hurdle of the All England; currently they are No.15 in the world rankings.
The first two months after the All England were spent in lockdown at home in Bulgaria, and the Stoevas are thankful that they got to spend time with their family.
“There was a positive side and a negative side to the lockdown. We are happy that we could spend so much time with family and rest mentally from the pressure during tournaments,” said Stefani.
“For a long time, we didn’t spend so much time with our family,” said Gabriela. “We can do things that we couldn’t do when we were busy with badminton. So we have more positive things than negative. Our family was happy, especially our dog, because he hasn’t seen us in a long time. This was the best way to give us rest and the opportunity to find our motivation when the tournaments start again.”
While the current situation has allowed them some leeway from their hectic badminton life, the Stoevas are still focussed on badminton and aim to play the next two Olympics.
“We still have a lot to prove and things to work on,” says Gabriela. “We had our targets with Olympic qualification, but now we don’t know when things will start. We’ll take everything day by day.”
“It’s an opportunity to work on fitness and physical training,” says her sister.
“The Chinese and Korean pairs trouble us as they are aggressive and they don’t allow you to play your game. We need to fight on court and be as one. We’re focussing on being more relaxed, and enjoying our time on court, and supporting each other.”