Getting to Know Sam and Vincent

Dec. 15, 2010, 5:48 p.m. (ET)

After winning gold medals at the Pan American Badminton Championships in Curitiba, Brazil and the XII Bill Graham Miami Pan Am Invitational in Miami Lakes Florida, Men’s Doubles Player Sameera Gunatileka views this as a “huge accomplishment” while his partner, Vincent Nguy, says, “words can’t explain.” Both do admit, however, that when they were kids, they always envisioned themselves at the top, winning tournaments and gold medals; as Sam reminds me, “all athletes dream about it.”

He is right, most kids dream about getting to that top spot in the sport that they play. Having such high goals and expectations helps kids reach that top spot when they grow up. But what separates those kids who dream of winning it all and reach those childhood goals with those who dream it, but move onto other things? Sam and Vincent still envision themselves at the top of the top. When I asked them about their Olympic dreams they both had predictably similar responses: that is their ultimate goal. How will they get there? Vincent says he feels closer after each tournament and especially each win. He explains that they gain important experience with every tournament, whether they win or lose; they always learn something. Sam adds that in order to make it to the Olympics an athlete must be “mentally tough” and must “really have to want it.” So do Sam and Vincent have that drive? Do they really want it?

Let’s take a look at their childhoods. Vincent started playing badminton for fun when he was young. He was just playing and learning the basics when his coach came up to him and informed him that there was a tournament that young Vincent could enter. Vincent agreed to enter the tournament not knowing what to expect since it was his first tournament. Yet as he played in the tournament something hit him, and it was not the birdie. He realized that he enjoyed the competition of this tournament and that is when he realized, he wanted to win the tournament. Fortunately for Vincent, he did not win the tournament as this fueled his drive. Young Vincent practiced very hard to prepare himself for coming tournaments. Finally he achieved his goal by winning gold for the first time at a tournament. However, winning one gold medal was not enough to satisfy him. Vincent craved to win more tournaments and had a desire to win at the elite level. The competition of the tournaments fueled Vincent’s drive to win and that desire has propelled him past his peers and into the elite status of the gold medal winners at international tournaments. 

Sam’s story is a little bit different. Sam spent his early life in Sri Lanka with his family. He played some recreation badminton for fun for a couple years in Sri Lanka before he and his family moved to Maryland. Moving to Maryland changed young Sam’s life for the best as his brother started playing badminton in high school. Being six years younger than his brother, Sam had to prove that he could play as well if not better than his older brother. The sibling rivalry between the two boys had begun. Young Sam wanted to be better than his brother and his competitive nature transferred across the badminton courts. Sam developed a drive to win that forced him to the top of competition.  The competitive young Sam and Young Vincent became partners and have remained partners for eleven years, feeding off of each other’s hunger for winning.

Young Sam and young Vincent are grown up now and have very busy lives. Sam has worked for the Navy as a contracted civilian engineer for two years. Vincent coaches juniors and adults part time while he also attends Montgomery Community College for nursing. With both of them being so busy, it is difficult for them to enjoy sightseeing when they travel abroad to tournaments. They both have to get back to their hectic schedules rather than taking an extra day or two to take in the culture of the host country. Although both admit they would like to have that extra time, they are focused on badminton and winning tournaments is their biggest goal. Sam and Vincent never lose sight of the ultimate goal and their competitive nature keep them going to tournaments and winning gold medals.

So do Sam and Vincent have what it takes to make it to the Olympics? Do they really want it? Since they were kids, they have had a higher level of competitive drive that has propelled them into gold medals at tournaments. They have continued with that same drive, winning tournaments and earning two recent gold medals at international competitions. They have a drive that helps them keep their eyes on the prize and they will not stop competing at their highest level until they reach their goal. Yes, they do have the competitive drive and the skill to reach their goals. I look forward to following them in the coming years and watching them reach their ultimate goal.