John Hong’s badminton game is taking him across the province and across the country.
Through the BC Seniors 55+ Games, the Oliver athlete has booked a trip to Coquitlam for the provincial tournament in late September. But before then, he’ll be taking his rackets to Brampton, Ontario for the 2016 Canada 55+ Games.
“The idea of the Games is to get people 55+ involved both physically and mentally,” Hong said. “It has lots of fast-paced activities, but also more sedated things like darts, bridge, lawn bowling, cribbage. It doesn’t matter what you’re into, you can get involved in just about anything.”
The Games segments its athletes by age through five-year intervals. Since younger categories are generally more competitive, ambitious athletes are allowed to compete against younger competitors if they want an added challenge, but athletes are not allowed to compete in categories above their age.
“That way we’re not competing against people drastically younger or older,” Hong said, adding that he plays in the 55-59 age group. “So I wouldn’t be playing with someone who’s 70, unless for some reason they wanted to play down a few age categories.”
The different age ranges offers all players a fair chance, he said, and furthermore, each age category for badminton is split into two categories – competitive and recreational.
“They have the recreational category so everybody gets a chance.”
Hong first became a badminton player around 45 years ago while he was a high school student in Hamilton, Ontario. He stuck with the sport, continually progressed, and eventually became a nationally certified coach. Earlier in 2016, he was chosen to serve as an official at the badminton event at the BC Winter Games in Penticton
“I stood on the sidelines and basically I was the umpire,” he said.
Similar to most sports, he said that being athletically inclined is important for badminton players, but there’s a major strategic component.
“It’s a game where you’re basically trying to outwit the other person. If you have people of more-or-less equal physical ability, then it becomes more a matter of who can fool the other player and cause them to get out of position to make a winning shot – that’s the mental aspect of it.”
When sharing the court with another player, Hong said the chemistry between partners is critical.
“If you have a partner who is drastically weaker than the other, the opponents will notice this and pick on the one person, so you need some sort of a balance, but on the other hand, the balance doesn’t do any good if the two of you don’t coordinate together. Each player needs to know which shots are theirs, which ones should be left to their partner, and what to do when holes open up.”
Without practicing with another person, it’s very rare that chemistry will naturally occur, he said. But at a World Masters championship, he was aligned with a woman who he met just three minutes before stepping onto the court with her, “And we played together like we’d been playing for 20 years.”
After giving the sport so much of his life, Hong said his focus recently has been on maintaining the abilities he spent decades honing.
“I’m trying to keep up the speed and keep up the strength. Plus I have an added challenge over the next little while because I had laser eye surgery and it’s not healing quite as fast as they said it was going to.”
While there isn’t a strong scene locally, Hong believes that South Okanagan residents would appreciate the sport of badminton if it were more easily available.
“When I was in high school, every school had a badminton team,” he said. “But around here not so much.”
The expense to run a badminton program is low, with rackets, shuttles and nets costing relatively low sums.
“It’s not like you need armoured equipment. There’s very little chance of injury. I don’t understand why schools around here aren’t offering it more.”
Starting in the fall, Hong will be hosting drop-in badminton at a local school. Anybody interested should keep a lookout for an upcoming ad in this paper, and to find out more about the BC Seniors 55+ Games, contact Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org.