Players born in China and Vietnam, and coached by an Indonesian, had hoped to bring the United States its first ever badminton medal, but it was not to be.
No U.S. Olympic sports team here is smaller than badminton's. It has two members, a men's doubles team, and a coach. All are residents of California.
The doubles team includes Kevin Han, 31, from Shanghai, China, and Howard Bach, 25, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. They won their opening Olympics match, but were ousted in the next round late Tuesday night by the fifth-seeded Danish pair of Jens Eriksen and Martin Lundgaard Hansen (15-6, 15-4).
The Danes were able to capitalize on the strength of their service game.
It was a big disappointment to Bach, competing in his first Olympics. "I had some high expectations of doing well, and unfortunately the dice didn't roll our way," he said. "It's definitely a lesson learned, because there's four years of your training. And I know what to expect [in the future] and what I need to work on if I decide to go one more term [at the Olympics]."
Han, in his third Olympics, had hoped for a better showing. "It's the big thing for athletes in the Olympic games to win a medal, you know. That's what I was hoping for," he said. "That's what I was dreaming of, you know. Unfortunately it just didn't come through."
Bach and Han's coach is Ignatius Rusli, 38, from Indonesia. His father put a badminton racket in his hand at age eight and he went on to compete for the Indonesian national team. Not long after coming to the United States to continue his higher education, Rusli decided he wanted to help U.S. badminton.
"When I saw that badminton in the U.S. is different than Indonesia, I felt like it was a challenge for me to make the sport big in the U.S., because I didn't see a lot of talented players in the U.S. And like, for example, in Indonesia, it's very easy to coach the kids from eight, nine years old," he said. "They know how to play badminton even though they'd never played badminton before. But in the U.S., it's very difficult because it's not popular. Those are the ones I really want to coach."
Rusli said he was sorry Bach and Han did not advance farther here, but in the future he hopes to coach an American to an Olympic badminton medal.
Han knows you must capitalize on your chances when you have them. "Unfortunately in the Olympics there's no second chance," he said. "You have to wait four years before you can do it again. It's like everything else in life. You have high hopes, high expectations, but if it doesn't come your way you have to move on."
And that's what Kevin Han will be doing. He's decided to retire from badminton competition but, being from China, he says he hopes he can contribute to the U.S. team in some way for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.