Sports

Playing badminton is no picnic

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Good or bad, badminton’s image is associated with backyard family picnics. Somebody seems to always break out a net and a handful of plastic shuttlecocks and partygoers join in with a drink in one hand and a racket in the other.

But badminton is also an intense, very explosive sport with a huge fan base across the world, especially in Asia and Europe.

“Recreational badminton and competitive badminton are a little bit different,” said Andrew Soo, a Federal Way podiatrist and one of the best players in the state.

That’s putting it mildly.

Today’s players compete in a lightning-fast sport which demands constant, highly concentrated actions. Besides explosiveness, quick reflexes and rapid hand-eye coordination, competitive badminton players must also possess superb aerobic endurance. In a typical two-game singles match, top players will cover nearly every inch of the court, which measures 20 feet wide and 44 feet long, and travel more than a mile.

“It is one hell of a game,” said Federal Way resident and avid badminton player Peter Townsend. “You come off the court ringing wet. It can be very, very slow or very, very fast. You have to be in good shape.”

Badminton is a game of deception. With very few exceptions tennis at its highest level, is a game of power and not much finesse. Points usually don’t last more than a couple hits back and forth over the net.

Badminton players, like Soo, blend a potent combination of power, touch, speed, agility and finesse into their games. The shuttlecock, or birdie, can travel at speeds close to 200 mph, but also float 30 feet over the net in a lazy arc.

“It really gives you a good workout,” Soo said.

Badminton is now an Olympic sport and in a lot of Asian countries, badminton rivals soccer in popularity. For example, at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the tickets to the badminton competition, then an exhibition sport, were the first to sell out. Badminton was declared a medal sport during the 1992 games in Barcelona.

But the sport isn’t just reserved for elite players, according to Soo. It is a game that can be played at any level.

Soo grew up playing badminton in his home country of Malaysia but gave it up at age 20 when he moved to this area because he didn’t know there was anywhere to play.

But he got back involved in the game four years ago and has since won the Washington State Badminton Association singles and doubles championships.

Soo and Townsend are two of several hundred people who play indoors in the Seattle area. They range from highly competitive tournament players, like Soo, to those looking for a little bit of fun and exercise, like Townsend.

“It can be played by youngsters to people in their 80s,” Townsend said.

In the Bellevue School District, badminton has been an interscholastic letter sport for high school girls and boys. But badminton players still have trouble taking gym court time away from the more mainstream sports like basketball and volleyball.

“It’s not really big in the United States,” Soo said. “I think it’s going to get bigger though. The base of players is getting larger and larger. In the last five years, I would say the number of players has gone up 10 to 20 percent.”

Soo credits the interest level in badminton to a lack of places in the area that offer court time and parents steering their children into money-making, main stream sports like basketball, baseball and tennis.

People are trying to change that perception, however.

Townsend is leading a movement in Federal Way to make badminton a focal point at the proposed $20 million community center that was approved last year by the Federal Way City Council to be constructed in Celebration Park next year. The project, which will include a senior center, swimming pool, fitness area, climbing wall, cafe, classrooms and three gymnasiums, is slated to have 28-foot ceilings. A height that will cause shuttlecocks to hit the roof during play, Townsend says.

“At the proposed height, competitive and many recreational players will be reluctant to use the facility,” he said. “It seems to me the city is passing up a golden opportunity.”

Townsend’s protests seemed to have worked. The City Council held a study session on the possibility of raising the height of the roof last night. Preliminary numbers from the architects of the new community center have said it would cost an additional $250,000 to add five feet to the roof height in the gyms.

“It is very hard to get people to come if the court is not set up properly,” Soo said. “It is an aerial sport and if it’s too low, it’s hard to play.”

Townsend cites the large Asian-American population in Federal Way as a plus for building a badminton-friendly gym at the community center.

Gyms that currently have high enough ceilings for badminton play can be fond in Renton, Kent and SeaTac, according to Soo. Those facilities are full 99 percent of the time, he said.

“That just shows you there is a lack of badminton court time,” Soo said. “Good players in the area will travel 45 minutes to an hour to play.”

The United States Badminton Association requires a minimum 30-foot ceiling for club level playing and international competitions are held under 40-foot ceilings.

The Federal Way City Council will, most likely, decide on the height of the new community center later this month.

“It you build it right, they will come,” Townsend added.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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