World badminton champion Howard Bach goes for the kill in his last Olympics this summer in London.
ISSUE: Summer 2012
STORY: Melody Lee
PHOTO: Melly Lee
Growing up, Howard Bach had always been quite the athlete — he ran track, played baseball and soccer — but he eventually decided to stick with badminton. Today, he is a world champion in the sport and is training for his third, and last, Olympics in the badminton men’s doubles event.
At the age of 5, Bach picked up the sport from his father, who used to play back in Vietnam. He moved to an Olympic training center at the age of 16 and has since racked up a long list of accomplishments in the sport. With his partner, Indonesian American Tony Gunawan, Bach made history in 2005 when the pair won the gold medal in the men’s doubles competition at the World Badminton Championships, becoming the first American badminton athletes to ever medal at a World Championship. In 2008, Bach and his doubles partner, Bob Malaythong, made it to the quarterfinalsof the Olympic Games in Beijing, advancing farther in the Olympic sport than any other Americans in history.
Now facing his last Olympics — at 33, he’s married and has a baby boy — Bach is training hard. His regular routine consists of everything from weightlifting to track to on-court training two times a day, five days a week. Bach is hoping to end his badminton career as a full-time athlete with a medal, but regardless, he plans to stay involved in the sport and maybe even raise its profile in the U.S. “America has one of the best athletic pools around the world, yet you see mainly Asians in the U.S. playing badminton,” he says. “That mentality should change. We have a lot of athletes of different ethnic backgrounds who are equally as athletic who would definitely enjoy the game as well.”
Bach credits his family, friends and sponsors for his success. “Being an athlete, it’s not enough to just have the talent; you need to have the environment to make an athlete successful,” he says. “I always mention it as the team behind the team, the support group, and I’ve been pretty blessed to have that support group behind me.”
— Melody Lee
While many countries have star athletes, few have star teams. China is a champion-making machine, turning young children into Olympic athletes through extreme training and discipline. Japan, a country still recovering from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters that devastated the country a little over a year ago, has also turned out a couple of noteworthy teams as well.
China’s diving team
The Chinese diving team earned the title of “dream team” by winning five gold medals in Sydney and six gold medals in Athens. At Beijing, China hoped for a clean sweep in the diving events and the team almost succeeded. Australia’s Matthew Mitcham snatched the gold medal in the men’s 10 m platform though, and China had to settle for seven golds. While most nations would be ecstatic, “almost” is not good enough for the Chinese. This time around, the Chinese “dream team” is determined to accomplish their goal. At this year’s world championships, they successfully won all eight events. Qiu Bo, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, will be competing in the elusive men’s 10 m platform along with teammate Lin Yue. Currently, all the world No. 1 divers are Chinese. China has won 33 out of the 48 Olympic diving titles offered in the past 28 years. This may just be the year that China will add eight more to that medal count.
China’s men’s gymnastics team
While China’s women’s gymnastics team has a chance for Team gold, they are not the overwhelming favorites. In contrast, the men’s team won Team gold in Beijing by a large margin, scoring the highest on all events except floor. They also won Team gold at the last world championships. China’s gymnastics team is extremely deep and all of the men competing were part of the winning world championship team. However, China does not have room to falter because another team from Asia is right on their heels…
Japan’s men’s gymnastics team
Japan’s men’s gymnastics team settled for the silver medal in Beijing, after winning Team gold in Athens. Japan is back with vengeance and their team may be able to oust China from the top of the podium. The team is lead by Kohei Uchimura, the three-time all-around world champion who will compete on all the apparatuses for the team. Gymnastic siblings Kazuhito and Yusuke Tanaka (sister Rie Tanaka competes on the women’s team) are also part of the men’s team.
Japan’s women’s soccer team
Controversy broke out last week when the women’s soccer team was seated in coach class while the men’s soccer team flew in business class. If seating had been decided by skill rather than sex, the women should have flown in first class. The winners of last year’s World Cup and ranked No. 3 in the world, Japan’s women’s soccer team may be able to upset the United States’ team again. Their star player is Homare Sawa who was voted world player of the year. However, Sawa is not a one-woman show. She has a disciplined team to back her up that includes Aya Miyama, Ayumi Kaihori, and Nahomi Kawasumi.
And more Chinese teams…
Alas, the Chinese method of training, while rigorous and demanding, has been proven to produce champions. In China, athletics is a profession and not a recreation. Children are recruited at the age of ten to begin training for a sport. For many people, especially those from rural areas, becoming an athlete is their best hope for leading a quality life. In addition to diving and gymnastics, expect China to dominate in table tennis, badminton, weightlifting, and shooting. These six sports alone garnered China 38 gold medals in Beijing during the last Olympics.
India’s Olympic hopes largely rest on the shoulders of several extremely talented women. These women are not only experts in their field, but they are also trailblazers for women’s athletics in India.
At 30 years old, Krishna Poonia is looking to capture an Olympic gold medal in the discus throw. She broke out onto the international seen in 2006 and entered the Beijing Olympics as a medal contender but failed to make the finals. The mother of a ten-year-old son, Poonia is looking forward to settling down and spending time with her son after these Olympics. However, Poonia admits that her son is one of her most avid fans. Poonia made history by becoming India’s first female athlete to win the discus throw at a major international tournament history when she won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
With the London Olympics a little over a week away, athletes and fans are gearing up for the most prestigious sporting event in the world. This time around, a number of Asian Americans will be representing the United States in various events.
This Olympics, the U.S. has two Asian American swimmers hitting the pool. Natalie Coughlin (she’s a quarter Filipina) and Nathan Adrian (he’s half Chinese) will be competing in London.
Dedication is an attribute that every Olympic athlete needs and Rena Wang is no exception. Having taken the past two years off from school in order to train rigorously in badminton, Wang’s hard work is finally paying off.