Match point. Scott Evans flicks the biggest serve of his life and waits on his toes, poised to move in any direction, to arch his body in any angle necessary. To drive himself to exhaustion, if needs be. But his opponent, Marc Zwiebler, over-hits his return, and for a fleeting moment Evans appears to pause, suspended in disbelief.
But then, Ireland's Scott Evans turned to those who had always been there when it mattered; those who had watched him leave with tears in their eyes as a sixteen-year-old; those who it hurt him to say goodbye to every time they embraced at Dublin Airport; those who knew just how long, how hard, the struggle had been. He turned to them, and all the years of frustration, of loneliness, of hard work, of struggling to survive-all of it poured out of him like a great waterfall of emotion. To us casual observers, unaware of his journey, it was the moment Scott Evans won a match in the Olympics; to Scott Evans, it was the moment his life and his dreams finally intertwined.
What it means to devote a life to the potential result of a single game; what it is to have the courage to live on such a tight-rope, most of us cannot imagine. But when you ask Evans if it would all have been worth it even in defeat, his relief fills the room.
I love the game and I put all my life into the game for the last number of years. I’ve also put my family through crazy stuff because of moving away and having down periods. I’ve also had some good periods as well...of course it’s still worth it, no matter what. But the difference between winning and losing in this sense, it doesn’t even come close to each other.
I mean, if I lost that game I'd still be very proud of getting to the Olympics again. But it just doesn’t come close to winning that type of game against Marc.
But don't ask him to explain it. Because asking him to explain what the result meant to him is asking him to sum up in a moment, over a phone line, emotions and feelings that men have always failed to put words to. Even the greatest among us.
I find it difficult to explain in words what it makes me feel like. All the bad periods come back to me when I think about the win and what it means to me. Moving to Denmark...for the first week, I’m dying with food poisoning for about four days. I’m in a country that’s fucking freezing cold, it’s dark fifteen hours a day, I missed my Dad’s fiftieth birthday...all these moments come back to me.
That moment when your son becomes the first Irishman ever to win an #Olympics #badminton match #Rio2016 #rterio2016 pic.twitter.com/zqwOdTXuYJ
— Philip Bromwell (@philipbromwell) August 12, 2016
One of the beautiful images that emerged from the Olympics was that of Evans' parents after their son's win over Zwiebler. His father stood, arms raised above his head, fists clenched; his mother ecstatically waved an Irish flag. Because God knows, it has hurt for them as well. Going right back to 2008, and an agonising loss in Beijing against the same opponent when, having won the second set and looked good in the first, he lost the decider when he had victory in his grasp...
I have one moment in my mind in the past...I feel like I could start crying when I talk about the moment. And that’s going back to 2008 when my Mum and my Dad and my brother were in the crowd. I was leading in the first (set) and blew it. Same situation in the second, and I end up winning the second.
I remember turning around to my Mum and Dad and brother and shouting, looking up to the three of them and the three of them are standing, jumping around...like the hall is totally full, there’s 10,000 people watching, and I can just see my Mum, my Dad and my brother, jumping around, shouting ‘Come on!'
From such an emotional second set, and seeing my parents and my brother so happy, to losing...that moment has always stuck with me.
These are moments...every time I go to the airport and say goodbye to my Mum and my Dad and my brother, it hurts me. It really hurts me to do it. And I know it hurts my Mum as well. She understands...but she’d prefer if I was at home.
So all of these emotions and feelings just came out of me after beating Marc that day because I felt like it was just...it felt like I deserved a good result.
Then there was the game against Ygor Coelho de Oliveira and the Brazilian crowd that booed and jeered him from the moment he walked onto the court until the finish, who made cut-throat gestures when he celebrated and who, he admits, nearly broke him.
I only lost the second set because of the atmosphere. I'm just as proud of winning that game as I am of beating Marc, because in previous years I would have folded under the circumstances. And I almost did.
But he took a deep breath, told himself to "enjoy this moment, because this atmosphere is happening only once in the history of badminton" and, like he has done throughout his career, throughout his life, he found a way to overcome the obstacles in front of him.
Just like he's always done.
If you've got to go out, this is the way to go. #TeamIreland #FullEvansForever pic.twitter.com/8o5uacu8vi
— Team Ireland (@TeamIreland) August 15, 2016
Speak to him about pressure to perform and he can tell you about pressure to survive in a job that receives €12,000 a year in Irish Sports Council grant money. Pressure to win a match in a tournament will always pale in comparison to the pressure to pay rent ("there's nothing worse"). No matter what the level.
Tokyo? That depends on a myriad of potential roadblocks being removed, lack of funding being one. But whatever diverse prospects the future holds, fear is not among them for Evans.
I'm not afraid of anything now, after everything I've gone through in my badminton. Of course, I'd be nervous with starting something new. I think that's just normal. But there’s nothing I don't think I can overcome. I've had so many down periods, probably a lot more than many of the other players, and I found a way to get out of those periods and learn from them. And I think I've done a good job of doing that.
Overcoming. Learning. Progressing.
It's what Scott Evans has been doing his whole life.
See also: Exclusive: Scott Evans Forced To Source Tickets From Denmark So Parents Could Watch Him In Rio