The conclusion of the 29th Pan American Junior Badminton Championships earlier in July saw Wellesley’s own Maugus Club triumph in the under-seventeen age group. Robert Shekhtman, a finalist in the men’s singles category, won his match in convincing fashion, besting his opponent 21-12 and 21-15 to bring home a gold medal. Kai Chong and Annabel Zhang made a valiant effort in the mixed doubles finals, leaving the tournament with a silver.
Facing high-level junior players from across the Americas, their results were a testament to their hard work and talent, as well as the ability of the club’s coaching staff—formerly led by Shekhtman’s coach, Sasha Boyarin, and now top USA Badminton coach Andy Chong—to develop strong competitors. Under the guidance of Chong, the United States also won the team championship, defeating Brazil 3-0.
But if the average Wellesleyan heard this local success story, they might be surprised that a badminton club even existed—despite some 200 members and a well-maintained, three-court facility—let alone that two of its players triumphed in such an esteemed competition. This lack of awareness is indicative of the larger, unfortunate truth that badminton is an undervalued sport in America.
The immense popularity of tennis has sidelined other racket sports for a considerable amount of time, but 70 years ago, America experienced a golden age of badminton. Between 1949 to 1967, the United States won a total of 23 championships, including the prestigious All-England title earned by David Freeman. The establishment of clubs in YMCA’s and universities, along with celebrity participation, gained the sport significant popularity during this era.
Badminton nowadays is enjoyed abroad, particularly in Asia and Europe. The arrival of the Olympics is always a special occasion for fans as they witness seasoned veterans and rising talents alike compete for a chance to bring back the gold. Although no audiences are present in Tokyo this year, the intensity of competition remains high.
Watching any match, whether it features top contenders such as Japan’s Kento Momota, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, and Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-ying, or athletes from home like Timothy Lam and Beiwen Zhang, is an opportunity to witness the speed and excitement of the game—a far cry from the leisurely backyard hobby that many consider it to be.
The process of renewing badminton’s popularity in America will require patience and the effort of dedicated supporters, and the first step is to raise awareness. The Maugus Club is a local resource available to anyone with interest in the game, and although there are many strong players among its ranks, accommodation for a wide range of skill levels allows beginners to improve at their own pace. From there, one might soon see an Olympic champion from Wellesley.