For most Americans, badminton is a backyard game played at parties
and barbecues. But for Eva Lee, it is very serious - she is one of five members
of the U.S. Badminton team that will be competing for gold at the Beijing
Olympics in August. VOA's David Byrd has this look at Eva Lee and her quest to
become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in badminton.
Eva Lee started playing badminton
when she was a child - her parents gave her a racket and told her to go hit in
order to keep her out of trouble. Her family thought the sport would keep Eva
and her childhood playmates busy, but they probably never dreamed what they
meant as a distraction for a fidgety child would turn into a quest for Olympic
This year, Lee's family will be watching as she competes for three medals in
Beijing - in women's singles, women's doubles and mixed doubles.
Preparing for competition
Eva Lee told VOA Sports that the fast pace of badminton requires several
different kinds of training, including strength, agility, and reaction
"We do long-distance running, sprints, weight training - light weights and
heavy weights," she said. "And then we also have to do agility, and then
sometimes we do cross-training, like playing soccer with our teammates or
basketball and all sorts of things."
The arduous training is needed. In a single game of badminton at the elite
level, athletes can run as many as two miles and have to respond in a split
second to the flight of the shuttlecock.
Endurance is everything
Eva Lee says that the grueling pace takes its toll, even on the best
"There was once I came off a mixed [doubles] match, and the mixed match
lasted about an hour," she said. "And after I came off the match, both my legs
just collapsed, I could not stand any more."
Eva Lee's endurance will be tested in Beijing - she has qualified in three
disciplines and will have to face top opponents from host country China and
perennial power Indonesia to win gold.
She has faced many of her Olympic opponents on the world circuit before,
including a loss to world number one Xie Xingfang of China at the Uber Cup
earlier this year. China shut out the Americans, 5-0, in group play at the Uber
Cup in Jakarta. Hong Kong later shut out the Americans in the knockout stage
Grace under pressure
Eva Lee says that she knows the road to Olympic gold will not be easy, but
she expects her opponents will have added pressure to perform, especially the
"Actually I do not think they will have any advantage," she said. "If
anything, they will be at a disadvantage because the Chinese badminton fans have
very high hopes for their players. And so I think there is a lot of pressure on
Eva Lee is used to pressure - she has been with Team USA at the Thomas and
Uber Cup, the Sudirman Cup mixed team championship and the China Open. She also
captured three gold medals at last year's Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. Lee won in women's singles, women's doubles with partner Mesinee "May"
Mangkalakiri and in mixed doubles with Howard Bach.
Gearing up for Beijing
In Beijing, Bach will team with partner Khan "Bob" Malaythong in men's
doubles and with Eva Lee in mixed doubles. U.S. Badminton Coach Cai Min Zi says
that Eva Lee and May Mangkalakiri have some factors in their favor, but will
have to be on their best game to win.
"Strong points: they have good skills and more experience," said Cai. "But
weak points are their power - one of them has no smash power and we will try to
get more improvement in their power."
The United States has never won an Olympic medal since badminton was made a
medal sport in Barcelona in 1992. This year, Eva Lee and her teammates hope that
they can find the right combination of speed, power, and good teamwork to bring
home a medal from Beijing.