Czech Koukal will play on to Rio 2016

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Baku, June 24, AZERTAC

Exactly a week ago, badminton player Petr Koukal decided to go for a swim and some sunbathing following his elimination in the first round of the US Open.

After waking up on the beach ninety minutes later, he was as red as a lobster with the worst sunburn he has ever had.

"My back is like a snakeskin now," Koukal said. "Yesterday the physiotherapist was like: 'What the hell happened?'."

Judging by his Baku 2015 form though, Koukal's tanning mishap was his only mistake of the week.

The 29-year-old Czech beat group opponents Igor Bjelan of Serbia, Emre Vural of Turkey and Mathias Bonny of Switzerland, qualifying for the round of 16 as group E's top player.

"You could say I can stand the heat now," the two-time Olympian said, referring not only to his sunburn, but also to the warm conditions inside Baku Sports Hall and the level of competition.

While Koukal is currently no.45 in the world and was the London 2012 Olympic flagbearer for Czech Republic, five years ago his life looked a lot different.

"One morning I found a little lump on one of my testicles," Koukal said. "It was the size of half a pea, nothing more. I didn't pay that much attention to it, because it didn't hurt and it didn't seem to get much bigger."

A doctor friend advised him to have a specialist take a look at it, just in case. After a quick test, the specialist had some bad news: Koukal had testicular cancer and needed an operation that same evening.

"I thought I was going to die," the Czech shuttler said. "From reading books and seeing movies you know that it's bad news if you need to have an operation that fast."

But following the surgery and subsequent therapy, Koukal survived the cancer scare.

"The experience changed my life," he said. "I do a lot of awareness (work) now. I talk about it to kids in schools, through my Petr Koukal Foundation."

"There's 32 official cases of people having been saved because of the foundation's work. A guy told me that his girlfriend showed him my story. He grew scared, had a check-up, and it turned out he had the same thing I had. He was operated on that night, which saved his life."

It's stories like these that have made Koukal decide he will retire after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and devote all his time and energy to raising cancer awareness.

But until that time, he will be a force to be reckoned with. His back may be peeling but he hasn't shed his badminton skin just yet.

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