I arrived at Wembley Arena, adjacent to storied and rebuilt Wembley Stadium, at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. The sleek stadium exemplifies the cool, classical design of the Olympic stadiums. Inside the venue, 12,500 seats and two gigantic HDTVs surround a court while loudspeakers blast American Top-40 hits. A tall net stands in center court. I am here to watch Olympic Badminton. For the bronze medal. I cannot control my excitement.
My ticket covered two bronze medal matches: the Men’s Singles between South Korea and China, and the Men’s Doubles between Team South Korean and Team Malaysia.
The stadium opens its seating a full hour before the event starts at 9:00 am. I wanted to walk around the stadium, so I am one of the first entrants. As soon as I can see the badminton court and the scene I recently described, I laugh out loud. This is badminton. I repeat this to myself often as I watch the pomp of the event. I feel like Allen Iverson when the announcers attempt to pump up the tired, British crowd. “We talkin’ about badminton,” I think. “We talkin’ about badminton.”
I believe that the Olympic sports, and sports in general, must demonstrate basic survival. Can I wrestle this person to keep them from killing me? Can I swim away from these sharks? Can I run away from danger? Badminton contains no survival factor, unless someone threatens to kill you if you lose in badminton. Actually, the North Korean team might have this threat.
Also, it is hard to take a sport seriously when it was invented as a way for upper class English to have something to do in their lawn. It is essentially competitive gardening.
Furthermore, WE TALKIN’ ABOUT BADMINTON. In high school physical education, we played badminton and nobody liked it. Everyone enjoyed basketball, or floor hockey, or other real sports. In kindergarten, I remember rallying with another kid in badminton for over 100 volleys. Not only was this the most dominant athletic achievement of my sporting career, but it was really not difficult.
Before the event, the announcer was interviewing a British athlete who won bronze for Britain in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. The announcer asked, “Now, is there any way that, knowing you could leave without a medal, the bronze medal match has more intensity than the gold medal match.” The former badminton player replied, “Well, since the game is often overlooked, it can certainly be more intense. You don’t know if you are going to go home without a medal after all that work. Yes, I would say it is.” But the former athlete was wrong. The answer is, “No.”
I wondered what would happen when the athletes won. If you win gold, you drop to your knees. So in the bronze medal game, do you just sort of crouch down a bit?
Before the match began, they tested out three differently weighted shuttlecocks to see which should be used for the day’s match. From what I could tell, this didn’t matter at all. The athletes should be able to play in any condition. They’re Olympians. Swimmers don’t decide what trunks they wear right before the match. Just use what you have.
The two competing Singles entered carrying their rackets. I wondered if the athletes threat them as dearly as you would a baseball glove, leaving it under your mattress every winter rubber banded to a shuttlecock to break it in. Or is it like a baseball bat: you throw it out when it breaks. During the match, they used the same racket, so I guess it’s the former. Actually, I guess it’s more like how you would treat a tennis racket.
The singles version of the sport looks like watching two people who are good at badminton, as opposed to world champions. I went to a cycling road race the week before, and you could immediately tell these were Olympians. I had never seen anyone bike that fast, let alone every racer. But the badminton players just seem like two athletic people who took the night off of playing basketball to try this sport.
During the match, after a shuttlecock would go through a few volleys the players would hand the referee the used birdies, and he would place them into a large bin with the Olympic label with the word, “Badminton” where I assume they would be delivered to impoverished nations who want things to play with.
When I bought the tickets, I remember thinking I would probably have to explain to people that badminton was in the Olympics. But the controversy happened, where four women’s doubles teams were disqualified for throwing matches. For whatever reason, a lower seeding would have meant playing the worse team in the group stage, so members of both teams starting hitting every volley directly into the net. The sport embarrassed itself on the national stage, which would be terrible if it weren’t so funny that it was badminton.
Anyway, I am belittled the sport too much because the experience was exceptionally fun. There was “Olympic spirit” in the audience, whatever that means. Watching the doubles matches was quite enjoyable. The game was a lot faster as the Korean team beat the grunting Malaysian team. Seriously, when the Malaysians would hit the shuttlecock, they would shout like they were a night getting sliced in half on the battlefield.
The British fans also vehemently rooted against both the South Korean teams. The Korean singles player competed against a tall, athletic Chinese player who looked like an actual athlete. Not an Olympic athlete, mind you, but someone who regularly lifts weights. I was somewhat upset that the Brits were rooting against freedom and for economic trade. However, South Korean had knocked out the men’s soccer team the night before. Sporting revenge trumps cheering for basic human rights.
Badminton also seriously lost its cool factor during the intermission between the two matches. They started playing an American country song (I guess British Country isn’t a genre) while the catwalk lights put on a show that featured the white lines from the backcourt switching spots. It was hopelessly uncool. I think badminton just needs to get sexier.
I watched the sport from the third to last row. This was actually the best view in the house. I tried sneaking down, but the stadium eventually filled to near capacity. For saying that nobody was attending the games, the stadium was exceptionally filled for a Sunday morning. Anyway, I realized that this would be the only time I could watch badminton from this angle. Every other time I watched badminton, I would look to my right and see an entire gym playing simultaneously.
I was extremely glad that I could see the pinnacle of the Olympics: the Bronze Medal Badminton game. I still think I can be a badminton champion. Or at least get the bronze.