An American at a Major Badminton Tournament?!

During the semi-finals of the Indonesian Open I saw something I had never seen before. The American flag!

I’m used to seeing the Malaysian flag (because of Lee Chong Wei) which looks very similar to the American one, especially when it is so small. But never the actual American one.

This is big news in the badminton world because America has never produced any outstanding players and right now Zhang Beiwan is 9th in the world and steadily rising.

Of course, America can’t take credit for her skills. You can tell from the picture she’s Asian, but she’s not even ABC (American born Chinese). She’s CBC (Chinese born Chinese, haha) and at the age of 13 she moved to Singapore where she played most of her career until recently.

She left Singapore due to some fallout with her coach and came to America to make her own way. No major badminton player would ever think leaving the national team in Singapore to make it on our own in America would be a good idea and yet she did it.

But watching her game really showed how American badminton sucks. Look at this picture taken during the 11 point break. Notice something?

That’s Zhang Beiwan standing in white, drinking, while her Korean partner is on the other side surrounded by her coaches. That’s right. Zhang Beiwan has NO COACH!

I’ve never seen this in a professional match. During the breaks the coaches run over and give advice, support, etc. In this picture one of the Korean coaches is rubbing down the players neck with ice while the other giving advice. Meanwhile poor Zhang Beiwan is standing by her lonesome, drinking and toweling off her sweat.

I had heard the American team didn’t have a coach, but I assumed someone would stand in for her during a world super series competition. But I guessed wrong.

“I support you!” I shouted out to this lonely figure on the court.

During the game the two seats reserved for the coaches were empty.

She played surprisingly well. In the first game she called for the medic because she had some problem with her leg. But instead of forfeiting the match she played on and won the second game before ultimately losing the match.

I found this article which says she hasn’t had a coach for 4 years and plays one hour a day with some 16-year-old kid in Las Vegas (damn that kids lucky). It’s a pretty sad state of affairs especially coming from China and Singapore where you are surrounded by coaches, players, nutritionists and everyone else caring for your welfare.

But she seems to like the freedom. In the article I mentioned above she said, “If I had stayed in Singapore, I don’t think I would have what I have now,” said the 26-year-old Singaporean. “I’m too straightforward and ask questions, and some people don’t like that. When I had a problem, I didn’t get to talk to the SBA, only the coach. Now I can do whatever I want, I control my own life.”

Her increase in world rankings has shown she made the right decision.

I actually think this could be a tactic to quickly increase the level of badminton players in America. To be a pro in China is basically impossible. You need to be pegged at a young age and then grow up in the grueling world of constant training. (My friend told me the standard in the Xiamen provincial level team is you can’t take a break until you get a leg cramp 3 times. I don’t know if that is an apocryphal story but it points out the intense level Chinese players must maintain.) Many fail and fall out while they are young and have no opportunity to go back even if they have the desire.

So America could scoop up those players who can’t endure the strict Chinese training but still have the passion and foundation. Offer citizenship and voila! You have an instant high-level team.

I hope Zhang Beiwan continues to rise because I can’t help but feel a little kinship with her. We were born in opposite countries, and then moved to each others countries and both love and focus on badminton. Not that I am comparing my skill level to hers, but mixing the American and Chinese badminton world is a very narrow niche that only a few people in the world can appreciate. I think we would get along well.

So good luck Zhang Beiwan! I’m no patriot but you make watching American badminton exciting.



  1. David L

    Hi, in your article, you quoted saying, “because America has never produced any outstanding players”. Actually, there were a few great American players. They were Dr. David Guthrie Freeman (once feared by many opponents at that time; when he played against legendary Wong Peng Soon in Thomas Cup matches that would be equivalent to present Lee Chong Wei vs. Lin Dan games), Judy Devlin (Canadian by birth, later known as Judy Hashman), Margaret Varner, Joseph Cameron Alston (who won All England Men’s Doubles with Malaysian partner Johnny Heah; after Badminton career he joined FBI), Although US Mens team has never won any Thomas Cup, the Women team, on the other hand, was the proud Uber Cup winners of 1957, 1960 & 1963, finalist of 1966.

    1. Becky (Post author)

      My meaning was in recent history but you’re right. I don’t really know too much about badminton player history so thanks for sharing. I’m glad to hear that American had some great players back in the day. Maybe my new slogan should be “make American badminton great again.” 😉


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