Rena Wang feels like she has hardly been home during the past three years.
Playing in international badminton tournaments has kept Wang on the go, though she’s going to enjoy a little time at home in Southern California until her next road trip — to London.
After a busy 12 months, Wang, 20, qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games in women’s singles, pending U.S. Olympic Committee approval.
“We had such a hectic schedule,” she said. “The race was so tight on points this year, so I think we traveled to at least 25 different tournaments.”
Luckily, Wang had her family by her side the entire time.
Wang traveled, trained and played with younger sister and doubles partner, Iris. Their mother, Dora, traveled to tournaments all over the world to be with her daughters. Their travels took them from Peru to Russia.
“I wouldn’t have able to do it without my parents support,” Rena Wang said. “We don’t get a lot of funding so I’m really happy that they’re really supportive, both financially and emotionally. It’s like a family affair.”
Wang said her family paid for most of the international travel, and that wasn’t the only sacrifice. Rena also took two years off from her undergrad studies at UCLA while Iris finished her high school credits with independent study.
“It’s like they realize I can only do this while I’m younger and they support me every way possible to make my dreams come true,” Rena said.
Wang’s dream of playing in the Olympic Games grew as she and her sister advanced from junior tournaments to adult tournaments to the international level.
“We started playing more adult tournaments and traveled internationally to just one or two (tournaments) and did OK,” she said. “So we set a goal and planned out our two years.”
The Olympic qualification was based on the Badminton World Federation’s world rankings after one calendar year — May 2011 to April 2012 — of competitions.
Wang was ranked No. 57 when the Olympic invitations were announced on May 3.
The Olympic invitation was met with excitement and a sigh of relief from Wang.
“We’ve been traveling for two years, almost three,” Wang said. “I had to take off time from school and sacrifice a lot of things. I’m just really happy that it paid off.”
After the Games, Rena Wang plans on returning to Southern California to continue her undergraduate studies in biology in preparation for medical school.
But her focus now is on the near future, and this summer, Wang joins Olympic veterans and doubles partners Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan in representing the United States in London. Bach is going to his third consecutive Olympic Games and Gunawan, who won the Olympic gold medal for his native Indonesia at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, will be going to his first with Team USA. He became a U.S. citizen in September.
“I feel so honored to be part of the team and to go to London alongside Tony and Howard,” Wang said. “It’s a big honor. They’re such good role models.”
Gunawan has acted as a coach for the Wang sisters during the past couple of years, giving them an experienced guide during training sessions in between international travel.
Wang hopes her experience at international tournaments, where she saw a lot of the world’s top players in singles and doubles matches, will help her advance out of pool play in London and into the knockout stages of the tournament.
“I think it’s realistic,” she said of reaching the final 16, “but it’s still a big achievement for U.S. badminton.”
As always, her family will be there to cheer her on. Wang just wishes her sister also qualified for the Games.
Iris Wang was ranked No. 83 on the world rankings at the end of the qualification period and the sisters were No. 32 in the doubles rankings.
“It’s disappointing because she made so many more sacrifices and it was so much harder on her because she had to do (high) school,” Rena Wang said. “I feel so bad that we didn’t make it. But I think she has so much potential and she’ll definitely make it for 2016. I think it will prepare her better for 2016 and allow her to achieve better things as a player later on.”
Iris Wang, who graduated high school this spring, started playing with the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club nine years ago, and Rena followed a month later.
Rena Wang said playing with her sister helped her reach the Olympic Games.
Iris Wang will be there to help train her sister for the Olympic Games — an opportunity for the sisters to stay in Southern California after a busy year. Rena Wang will play in the U.S. Open at nearby Orange County Badminton Club in July before heading to London.
“It’s so fun just traveling with your best friend, playing together, going through training together,” Rena Wang said. “I could not have done it without her by my side.”