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Badminton's inspirational partnership, on court and off it

Kamilla Rytter Juhl, left, and Christinna Pedersen On Man Kevin Lee/Getty Images

On Tuesday evening in Lucknow, the mixed doubles badminton pair of Kamilla Rytter Juhl and LC Him lost a close match to Awadhe Warriors' team of Christinna Pedersen and TC Man. While the defeat cost her side - the Ahmedabad Smash Masters - a crucial point in what was eventually a 3-4 defeat in the Premier Badminton League (PBL) tie, it also denied Juhl the chance to claim bragging rights against Pedersen, who is her women's doubles partner on the international circuit.

"We both really want to win against each other," Juhl says of Pedersen. "If I could beat her, I would tell her every day that I was better than her in mixed doubles."

It's a special relationship: not only are they partners on the court, but partners in real life as well. And, more importantly, an inspiration to fans all over the world who are possibly grappling with their own issues of orientation.

The couple have been together professionally since 2010, and have won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and several medals at the World Championships. Juhl (35), a former world champion in the mixed doubles, gave up that event in 2015 in order to concentrate on the women's doubles. Pedersen, meanwhile, continues to participate in both the women's and mixed team events.

The couple came out last year in their book 'Det Unikke Makkerskab' (the unique partnership). Juhl said that while they had not really hidden their relationship, they still worried about how their fans might react to the news. "The badminton community in Denmark knew that we were a long-term couple and I suppose a few players in Europe did too. But we were worried how the world would react to the news. First of all, we wanted to show people that we would still be the same persons, we'd still be badminton players."

As it turned out, the duo received plenty of support, even from countries where same-sex relationships are a punishable offence, which Juhl says she was surprised by. "It feels nice that so many people have responded nicely to us. I think the thing that has been the best for me is when we hear from people from India and Malaysia (where homosexuality is banned), who still support us because we are the best badminton players around the world That is really nice for us. And many people have written sweet messages to us that we inspire them and maybe they are also homosexual," she says.

And although she says she hadn't thought about it when writing the book, Juhl is glad she could make inspire others. "I didn't think we would get so much support. I am just happy that we can inspire other people," she says.

Juhl says she felt a similar nervousness in 2009, when she and Pedersen first debated whether to let their teammates know about their relationship. "We had talked a lot about it. Should we do it or should we not do it. Is this real, or is this just some fun stuff that will pass. What made it easier was when we told our parents, they were so supportive about it. And our friends were so happy. After some days in practice, all the players accepted us because we were still us and there was not much to talk about. In fact, only our coach got upset and that was because he wanted to have been informed before our parents," laughs Juhl.

"We were worried how the world would react to the news (of our relationship). First of all, we wanted to show people that we would still be the same persons, we'd still be badminton players."

Kamilla Rytter Juhl

But while her immediate fraternity was supportive, Juhl and Pedersen had a reason for keeping their relationship under wraps. Part of the international badminton circuit is played in countries where same-sex relationships are a criminal offence. "We were worried back then because we were just starting out our careers. We had to go everywhere and play," says Juhl.

By now, those fears have dissipated somewhat. "We are still a little worried because we don't really know how people react in all places. But now we are so mature and calm. And now we are in a position where if we go to a country and we don't feel good there, we will just skip that tournament next year," she says.

For the moment, though, Juhl is simply glad to be able to partner with Pedersen and keep on performing on the international circuit. "I think it (their relationship) helps our partnership. It helps us because if there is anyone in the world I want to help the most, it is Christinna and the reverse is also true. It is easy for us. If I am nervous, it is easy for me to tell Christinna that... I can be honest with her and it helps us too. But at the end of the day, we have to perform on the court. Over there the only thing that matters is badminton," she says.