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Bad News for Badminton

Wed August 01, 2012 - National Edition
Dave Barry - McClatchy Newspapers

LONDON — A scandal has erupted here in the most cutthroat and vicious of all Olympic sports, a sport whose very name contains the word “bad,” not to mention the word “minton”: Badminton.

Badminton is of course the sport you used to play on your lawn in the summer when your dad got sick and tired of you sitting around watching TV all day, so he went to the drugstore and invested $8.99 in a badminton set. He then spent an hour unraveling and setting up the net, which was made from what appeared to be used dental floss, after which you and your siblings spent approximately five minutes swinging randomly at the little birdie with the drugstore rackets, which were designed, for safety, to break upon impact with any object larger than an air molecule.

Then either (a) the birdie landed on the roof, or (b) the net collapsed and crumpled into a defensive floss wad the size of a walnut that could never be unraveled again without the aid of neurosurgeons. Then you went back inside and resumed sitting around watching TV for the duration of the summer.

Olympic badminton is not like that. It is a fast-paced sport that is hugely popular in Asia, which, as you may be aware, is a very large place containing numerous Asians. Over there, top professional badminton players are treated like rock stars and can make millions of dollars for whacking the birdie, which is called a “shuttlecock.”

According to Wikipedia, a regulation shuttlecock is made from—I swear this is an actual quote—“sixteen or so overlapping feathers, usually goose or duck and from the left wing only.” Wikipedia does not say why only left-wing feathers used, or whether this causes the geese and ducks to fly in counterclockwise circles.

Asia: Land of Mystery.

But getting back to the Olympic scandal: It erupted during a women’s doubles match between a Chinese team (actual names: Yu and Wang) and a South Korean team, in which it appeared that both teams were deliberately trying to lose.

Apparently these women were whacking the shuttlecock all over the place. The officials got upset and the crowd was booing, especially when a slow-motion replay revealed that, during several points, the players were holding their rackets by the wrong ends. The same thing happened in a later women’s doubles match between South Korea and Indonesia, with both teams again apparently trying to lose, as evidenced by the fact that they hit the shuttlecock onto the roof an Olympic-record 358 times.

It is still not clear to me why, after going to all the trouble to get into the Olympics, these athletes would try to lose. Maybe they wanted to go watch TV. All I know is, the international badminton community is in a major uproar about this scandal.

In an effort to investigate, I went out to the badminton venue at Wembley Arena, arriving just in time to see the top men’s singles player in the world, the legendary Lin Dan of China, who lost to LeBron James.

No, seriously, Lin won his match against Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat in as fine a display of shuttlecock-whacking as I have seen in some time. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to see India’s Kashyap Parupalli defeat Sri Lanka’s Niluka Karunaratne in a match umpired by Jitrut Thanuakarapat. Jitrut hails from Thailand, which is by far my favorite foreign country in the Olympics. It is represented in the mixed badminton doubles by Sudket Prapakamol and Saralee (yes, “Saralee”) Thoungthongkam, and in men’s singles by Boonsak Ponsana. Also on Thailand’s Olympic team are Ek Boonsawad, Chatuphum Chinnawong, Atthaphon Daengchanthuek, Nuttapong Ketin, Sutiya Jiewchaloemmit and of course Tanyaporn Prucksakorn.

I am sorry to report that the woman weightlifter who won a gold medal for Thailand in the Beijing Olympics, Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon—who changed her name from Chanpim Kantatian on the advice of a fortune-teller—failed to make the Thai team this year because her training went poorly, according to Thai Amateur Weightlifting Association President Maj. Gen. Intharat Yodbangtoey.

But getting back to the badminton scandal: All eight players involved were kicked out of the Olympics. Now the big question — which you have no doubt already asked yourself — is what effect, if any, this scandal will have on the performance of China’s trampoline competitor Dong Dong. I cannot answer that question. But I can say this: Thank God for cut-and-paste.

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