When picturing the quintessential Paly athlete, one might envision a tall, burly student clad in a decked-out letterman jacket, his face recognizable by all as he walks across the quad with his similarly-dressed teammates. And in all probability, this archetypal athlete would not be a badminton player.
Although badminton has been at Paly since the 1970s, and boasts a roster of roughly 60 players each year, the team receives very little recognition in the athletic community. The challenges of the sport and the inner workings of the team are a mystery to many, which eaves the masses questioning: behind the closed doors of the Paly gym, what is the deal with badminton?
The first than that Paly's badminton team wants people to know is that badminton, or "baddy", is a real and challenging sport.
"I always have to defend badminton," Hillary Yuan ('10) said. "It's more difficult than you would expect. There is a lot of strategy, agility and quick thinking involved. The birdie goes up to 200 miles per hour; you can't even see it. I would like to see a football player try to play badminton. They may be strong [athletes], but if you shoot behind them, they'll lose their balance and fall backwards."
Yuan's claims about badminton's challenges receive some support from an April 2004 ESPN Page 2 investigation that determined which sports were truly the most difficult. A panel of experts decided that badminton ranked 30th overall out of the 60 sports rated, due to extremely high scores for agility, hand-eye coordination and analytical aptitude. While not an entirely definitive analysis, badminton did beat out skateboarding, bull riding and diving, among other sports, to claim a spot in the top 30.
Badminton player Ivan Zhao ('10) agrees with Yuan that the sport is misunderstood.
"Most people don't understand how hard it is, and they would probably get their butt kicked if they tried to play," Zhao said. "It's not a sport you naturally know how to do, like running. It takes a lot of skill and practice to be good at badminton. And you do have to condition."
Badminton conditioning at Paly entails roughly two miles of running, in addition to drills such a frog jumps, push-ups and liners. Conditioning focuses on footwork, which is considered the foundation of badminton.
"Footwork is the most important aspect of the sport, yet it's the most unappreciated," Zhao said.
According to Zhao, the badminton conditioning at cross-town badminton powerhouse Henry M. Gunn High School is more strenuous than football conditioning.
"Sometimes people from the Gunn track team will go to badminton conditioning practices to train," Zhao said. "That's how hard it is."
The Gunn badminton team has a strong reputation, which Yuan also attributes to the number of professional or nationally-ranked players on the team.
"The big thing is that Gunn has more interest in badminton than we have at Paly," Paly captain Allen Chen ('09) said. "They have a lot of people try out, train hard, and are more spirited than we are."
Paly badminton, on the other hand, is best-known for its poor record. Over the past two years, the team has won only two games, while losing 22.
"People need to know that badminton exists at Paly, but right now we are not really known in a positive way," Zhao said. "You shouldn't [insult] the sport, but I think it's fair to [insult] our team until we start winning."
Zhao believes than an increased emphasis on serious training and conditioning would make the team more successful this year, while Chen adds that building a strong team foundation will also be important.
"Everyone tries out for badminton for the prep period," Chen said. "We're hoping to make badminton a real team, and have team spirit, instead of people just going to practice to goof off."
Yuan agrees that many underclassmen try out for the team purely to get a prep period or to hang out with friends-both boys and girls. According to athletic director Earl Hansen, badminton is the only sport at Paly that is considered coed, because of the "mixed doubles" competition which pairs boys and girls together.
In addition to mixed doubles, badminton offers singles and normal doubles, just like tennis. But it is a common misconception that badminton is a warped and miniaturized version of tennis. Other than the use of racquets and a net to launch objects over, the two sports have few similarities. For instance, while tennis is a game of sideways motion, badminton is mostly played back and forth. And the tennis ball, bouncy, heavy and round, has a much longer and more uniform flight path than the flimsy, top-heavy shuttlecock of badminton.
Badminton's history is also entirely apart from that of tennis. The game developed from a medieval English children's game called "battledore and shuttlecock", in which children tried to keep the shuttlecock in the air with tiny rackets. Other games using a shuttlecock date back more than 2000 years to ancient Greece and China. The British developed the modern version of badminton from a shuttlecock game called "Poona" played in 19th century India. The game was popularized at an 1873 British lawn party at the Badminton House, and given the title of "the Badminton game". Throughout the 20th century the sport garnered more recognition, until 1992 when badminton was admitted as an Olympic sport.
With such a long and rich history, and sponsored by Paly for over 30 years, it may be puzzling that badminton has not enjoyed the attention or interest that other Paly sports have garnered. Perhaps greater awareness, and a winning season, will boost badminton's reputation and put an end to the snide comments questioning the sport's difficulty.
So the next time a friend decides to belittle the fastest racquet sport in the world to make himself seem like a tougher athlete, remind him that Ivan Zhao and the rest of Viking badminton team will gladly accept his challenge on the court.
Read more: Paly Voice: What's the deal with badminton? - http://voice.paly.net/view_story.php?id=8170#ixzz0C7BlAKTT