Steadily and methodically improving its standing in the international badminton community, USA Badminton is quietly optimistic that the 2012 Olympic Games could prove to be the top of the mountain it has been trying to climb. That optimism is not misplaced as the 2005 world champion men’s doubles team of Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan have once again joined forces, this time with their sights set squarely on the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
With Gunawan on track to being sworn in as a U.S. citizen in September 2011, the biggest hurdle of the journey is set to be cleared. Gunawan, a native of Indonesia, won a gold medal in men’s doubles with Candra Wijaya at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Following the Games, Gunawan had moved to the United States to begin his coaching career, but also paired with fellow Indonesian native Halim Haryanto Ho to win the World Badminton Championships in men’s doubles in 2001. Gunawan has coached and trained some of America’s top badminton athletes since moving to the U.S., but found he still had a passion for playing the sport he loves and wanted another chance to prove that at the highest level.
Bach had teamed in men’s doubles with Kevin Han for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but following that event Han made the decision after three Olympic Games to retire from international competition. This left Bach, a natural doubles player in his prime, without a partner. Gunawan and Bach hatched an idea to team up and play the Badminton World Federation international competition circuit for the 2005 season primarily as a way to continue to develop Bach’s game and hopefully take it to a higher level.
The initial pairing of Bach and Gunawan certainly did take Bach’s game to a higher level. The pair culminated their initial partnership in 2005 by making history and winning a first ever world championship gold medal for the United States in the sport of badminton. Never before had a USA Badminton athlete won a medal at the world championship or Olympic level in the sport of badminton. Their accomplishment put USA Badminton on the map and also earned the two the coveted U.S. Olympic Committee Team of the Year Award for 2005. What made the moment even sweeter was the fact that they were able to accomplish this feat in the United States, as the 2005 World Badminton Championships were held in Anaheim, Calif., at the Arrowhead Pond, just down the road from the Orange County Badminton Club where Bach and Gunawan both train.
Knowing that he would not be eligible to receive his U.S. citizenship prior to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Gunawan had always looked at the 2005 season as a type of competition swan song. The plan all along was to use the 2005 season to develop Bach into a better player able to compete at a higher level internationally.
Following the 2005 season, Bach teamed up with Khan “Bob” Malaythong. Malaythong, originally from Laos, had recently received his U.S. citizenship and the two set off on their journey to the 2008 Olympic Games. The pairing proved good as Bach and Malaythong also made history as they became the first USA Badminton athletes ever to reach the quarterfinal round in Olympic badminton competition.
Following the 2008 Games, Malaythong decided to retire from international competition and start his own coaching career. Bach also entertained thoughts of retiring, but the draw of the court was too strong and he wanted more. In 2009, he talked to his old friend and partner Gunawan and convinced him to give competitive badminton a go once again. The two decided to test the international waters in 2009 to see if they still had the ability and desire to try to recapture the magic they found has a team in 2005. The select tournaments the two played in the 2009 season was enough to convince them they would be competitive if they decided to make a full-time comeback so they set their plan in motion, playing a top-notch schedule of Super Series events in 2010 and performing well enough to rank in the top 10 in the Badminton World Federation rankings. Knowing that they could still compete at the highest level internationally, Bach and Gunawan have continued to gain momentum in 2011, performing at a high level especially since the beginning of the 2012 Olympic qualifying season on May 1, 2011.
Fully committed as a team and currently ranked in the top 20, Bach and Gunawan represent America’s best hope of reaching badminton’s medal podium at the 2012 Games. Gunawan’s top priority right now is to ensure that everything stays on track regarding his application for U.S. citizenship. Both also focus on keeping their bodies healthy so that they can play at their highest level when they compete. As with most athletes in the U.S. in sports that are inadequately funded, the two must also strategize to make sure that what little funding is available is used in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Though they are America’s best medal prospect for the 2012 Games, Bach and Gunawan are not the only USA Badminton athletes on the road to London. Returning from the 2008 U.S. Olympic Badminton Team is Eva Lee. Lee qualified for and competed in two disciplines at the 2008 Games (women’s singles and women’s doubles with Mesinee “May” Mangkalakiri ). She just missed qualifying in mixed doubles with Bach. Within a week of returning from Beijing and the 2008 Games, Lee was back in the gym preparing for her bid for London.
Bach and Lee look to be the only returning members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Badminton Team on the road to London. Malaythong and Mangkalakiri have begun careers in coaching and Raju Rai has also stepped away from the international competitive badminton scene, at least for the time being.
Though Bach and Lee look to be the only returning U.S. Olympians, they are not the only seasoned international players hoping to represent the United States in London. Besides Gunawan, Halim Haryanto Ho, also a native of Indonesia, is on track to receive his U.S. citizenship by September 2011. Ho and Gunawan paired up to win the 2001 World Badminton Championship in men’s doubles. Both Gunawan and Ho have qualified to represent the United States at the 2011 Pan American Games, a critical tournament to earn Olympic qualification points.
There is also a new crop of young talent on the rise for USA Badminton and they have their eyes set on London. Young athletes to keep an eye on include Sattawat Pongnairat and Phillip Chew on the men’s side. On the women’s side, Cee Ketpura has shown strong potential representing the United States at the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Sisters and doubles partners Rena and Iris Wang have also performed well and shown good potential, as has Paula Obanana. Pongnairat, Ketpura, Rena Wang and Obanana have all qualified for the 2011 U.S. Pan American Games Badminton Team and will join Bach, Gunawan, Ho and Lee in Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2011.
- Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan originally teamed up in men’s doubles in 2005 to win the first-ever world championship title for the United States in the sport of badminton. With Gunawan on track to being sworn in as a U.S. citizen in 2011, the two have joined forces once again, this time with their sights set squarely on the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
- One of People’s 50 hottest bachelors in 2004, Howard Bach will be trying to make his third consecutive U.S. Olympic Team. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Bach and his family moved to San Francisco when he was three years old. Bach – who reached the round of 16 in the men’s doubles competition at the 2004 Olympic Games with Kevin Han and a first-ever Olympic quarterfinal for the U.S. with Khan “Bob” Malaythong at the 2008 Olympic Games – is the veteran and clear leader of the USA Badminton Team. In men’s doubles, Bach has reunited with Tony Gunawan, with whom Bach team with in 2005 to win the first-ever world championship title for the United States in the sport of badminton.
- Two top international players – Tony Gunawan and Halim Haryanto Ho – are hoping to represent the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games after completing the process of becoming legalized United States citizens.
- A native of Indonesia, Tony Gunawan won the Olympic gold medal in men’s doubles with his partner Candra Wijaya at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Gunawan immigrated to the United States following the Games to begin a coaching career. In 2005, Gunawan teamed up with Howard Bach to win the first-ever world championship title for the United States in the sport of badminton. Gunawan is hoping to continue making history for USA Badminton when he and Bach strive for gold at the 2012 Games.
- Halim Haryanto Ho, a native of Indonesia, is on track to receive his U.S. citizenship by September 2011. Ho and Tony Gunawan paired up to win the 2001 World Badminton Championship in men’s doubles. Both Gunawan and Ho have qualified to represent the United States at the 2011 Pan American Games, a critical tournament to earn Olympic qualification points.
- The Wang sisters (Rena and Iris) are attempting to make the 2012 Olympic Games a family affair.
Many members of the USA Badminton Team have international ties. Howard Bach was born in Saigon, Vietnam; Tony Gunawan and Halim Haryanto Ho were born in Indonesia; and Eva Lee was born in Hong Kong.
- Athletes in many low-profile sports struggle to compete at the top level internationally due to limited funding. This is indeed the case for USA Badminton athletes. With an Olympic qualifying process that requires athletes to travel the globe to compete in international tournaments and earn ranking points, it requires true sacrifice for USA Badminton athletes to follow their dreams of representing the United States at the Olympic Games.
- Howard Bach
- Tony Gunawan
- Halim Haryanto Ho
- Sattawat Pongnairat
- Phillip Chew
- Eva Lee
- Cee Ketpura
- Rena Wang
- Iris Wang
- Paula Obanana
The Olympic qualifying period for the 2012 Olympic Games is one calendar year. It began on May 1, 2011, and runs through April 30, 2012. Participation in the Olympic Games is solely determined by an athlete’s international ranking. Five badminton events will be contested at the 2012 Games: men’s doubles, women’s doubles, men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed doubles.
- Aug. 8-14, 2011: 2011 World Badminton Championships (Olympic Test Event) – London
- Oct. 14-30, 2011: 2011 Pan American Games – Guadalajara, Mexico