US Olympic Badminton Team 2012: Updated News & Analysis for America's Squad
In the United States, we often associate badminton as a sport played casually as summer time rolls along. In international competition however, badminton becomes a lightning-quick and even dangerous sport, as shuttlecocks approach speeds of over 200 miles per hour.
Despite having never won a medal in Olympic play, the U.S. remains hopeful that London 2012 will be the year to get over the hump after reaching the quarterfinals in men’s doubles back in the 2008 Games in Beijing
The U.S. will have two entries in the competition, which starts on July 28 just a day after the Opening Ceremonies.
The notable entry is in men’s doubles, where veterans Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan will compete, while Rena Wang will represent the American women in the singles competition. Here’s the scoop on the red, white and blue’s badminton contingent this summer.
The Nitty Gritty: Tony Ganawan & Howard Bach
Age: 37 (Ganawan) and 33 (Bach)
Country of Birth: Indonesia (Ganawan) and Vietnam (Bach)
World Ranking: 21st
Prior Olympic Results: Ganawan won gold for his native Indonesia in doubles at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Bach and his partner were defeated in the round of 16 at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and were eliminated in the quarterfinals in Beijing.
History as a Duo: The two teamed up in 2005 after Bach’s partner retired, with Gunawan having moved to the United States but not yet holding citizenship. Soon after, the duo won the 2005 World Championships, the United States’ first ever medal, let alone gold, in world championship or Olympic competition. The pair also won the 2011 Pan Am Games competition (Courtesy of teamusa.org).
In The Family: Gunawan’s wife, Eti, is also a former Indonesian badminton athlete and competed in doubles on the women’s side in the 2000 Games.
A Long Road to London
Qualifying was the simple part. By winning the Pan American Games last fall, Bach and Gunawan earned an automatic bid to the Olympics.
Before that, Gunawan had to pass his United States citizenship test in order to be eligible for the Pan American Games, and therefore, the Olympics. He took and passed it last September, just one month before the Pan Ams.
After qualifying, the two had to heavily consider whether to actually make the trip to London or let the regional runners-up go instead.
It may have not been on the level of ex-Vikings coach Brad Childress flying to Mississippi in order to persuade Brett Favre to return, but USA Badminton helped convince both men, who have young families and commitments at home, to go all-in for one last run at making the podium.
If the two had decided to opt out of their bid, the Canadian duo of Adrian Liu and Derrick Ng would have gone to London. “We were like, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s better if we go then let the Canadians go” said Bach in an article in the Los Angeles Times by Kevin Baxter.
If another American team had finished second, the duo might have stayed home. Instead, they decided to represent their country for what will likely be the final time, on the world’s biggest stage.
What to Expect
With a combined 70 years of age, the pair hopes their best days are not behind them and that they can keep up in the fast-paced nature of international competition.
Luckily, a change in the format of Olympic competition could benefit the pair. Instead of a single elimination tournament style, each team will be in a group of four where two teams will advance to the elimination round, similar to soccer.
This format will allow an early slip-up and give the duo more time to acclimate to their competition. Still, it will be difficult to make a run at the gold with the top-ranked Chinese and Indonesia squads likely to maintain their dominance in international competition.
The pair has a fair shot at third place, but will need to channel their play from 2005 to be in the running.
The Nitty Gritty: Rena Wang
Birthplace: Pasadena, CA
College: Currently attends UCLA
World Ranking: 60th
Prior Olympic Experience: None
In The Family (Again): Rena has competed internationally in doubles with her younger sister, Iris, and the pair won silver at the Peru International Badminton Championships last year. Rena also won gold at the same event in women's singles.
What to Expect
Wang has fared well in smaller competitions around the Americas but has yet to make any noise against any of the world's top opponents.
In London, she will be going against the world's best, including a Chinese contingent of the world's top three ranked players. Wang is one of the lower-ranked players to receive a spot in the field of 38 and will be hard-pressed to make to the elimination round of 16.
She is only 21 however, so she and her younger sister should be back in 2016 with enough experience to make a deeper run in both singles and as a team.