Badminton set to be a smash at GC20183 Jan 2018 by Fiona Self
With smashes reaching up to 400 kilometres per hour and lightning fast rallies, badminton is one of the world’s most popular sports.
In April, the Commonwealth’s top players will bring their skill, speed and strategy to the Gold Coast to show crowds why the sport has captivated fans across the globe, particularly in Europe and Asia.
No one is more excited about having a major badminton event on home soil than Australia’s own champions.
Reigning three-time Oceania singles champion Wendy Chen is one of them.
The GC2018 Badminton ambassador grew up in Brisbane playing the ‘family sport’.
The 24-year-old has competed in tournaments all over the world and has experienced the deafening cheers of packed crowds, the intoxicating feeling of victory and the devastation of missing out.
She’s been playing for more than 10 years and Chen loves the challenge of the game and the diverse range of skills it demands.
“It’s very high intensity,” Chen told GC2018.com.
“It requires great reflexes, great body coordination, it’s very challenging. That’s what I love about it.”
At the elite level, badminton couldn’t be more different to the perception of portable nets in the backyard and leisurely hits of a plastic shuttlecock during physical education classes at school.
The way Chen describes it, the atmosphere at major competitions would give even State of Origin crowds a run for their money.
“When I was playing the (2016) Olympics, it was so noisy, so noisy that I could barely hear how I hit the shuttle,” she said.
“Hearing the shuttle helps me determine how far the shuttle is, but when you’re in there you can’t hear it. I can’t hear anything, I can’t hear the umpire saying the score, it’s very different.”
Challenging the local perception of the sport is one of the reasons Chen is so excited to compete in her home country.
“I want family and friends, people that haven’t played badminton, to see what badminton is like,” she said.
“Because they don’t really know what badminton is like. You have a lot of running, reflexes.
“You have to be fit, you have to be agile, and everything, you have to be smart too.”
Chen played recreationally throughout school, but it wasn’t until 2012 that she decided to quit her engineering studies to focus on being an athlete and chase her dream of making the Olympics.
It was a decision Chen found difficult to make amidst pressure to continue her studies, but ultimately, her love of the sport prevailed.
“I had a hard time deciding that,” Chen told GC2018.com.
“My parents are very traditional, ‘you have to study, this is the way of life, you study and you have a job’. But I believe that you need to have a dream.
“I decided to play, pursue the dream. I wanted to play the Olympics.”
Chen’s decision paid off, she was selected for the Rio 2016 Olympics and placed 17th, and in the same year won her first Oceania singles title.
Now with the full support of her family and friends behind her, Chen’s next goal is GC2018 selection. She is training at the Queensland Academy of Sport and studying exercise physiology, a path she says complements her training.
If selected, GC2018 will mark Chen’s Commonwealth Games debut, alongside some of the greats who are expected to take to the court in April.
Malaysia dominated the badminton competition in Glasgow in 2014, winning three gold medals, and all eyes will be on Malaysian superstar Lee Chong Wei, who has called out GC2018 as a key focus for his 2018 season.
“Lee Chong Wei has been dominating the sport for more than 10 years, he’s even written a book about it,” said Chen.
“People really love him, he’s very fit.”
Chong Wei has won four Commonwealth Games gold medals but had to withdraw from the Glasgow Games because of a hamstring injury in 2014.
In the women’s competition, Chen identified two Indian players as athletes to watch at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre.
Former world No.1 and Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games singles champion, Saina Nehwal, and Olympic silver medallist and Glasgow 2014 bronze medallist, 22-year-old Pursala Venkata Sindhu are tipped to represent India at the Games.
“Saina Nehwal is very smart,” Chen said.
“When you reach a certain level everyone’s just great, applying the mind games you need to be really smart about it. She can always get to the next shot.
“P.V. Sindhu, she’s very fast and powerful.”
GC2018 Badminton will feature singles and doubles events, including mixed doubles and mixed team events. Tickets are still available.