Jennie Gai plays on the net on Oct. 07, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — With rival teams leading chants at Tecnopolis Park, the final day of badminton action at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 seemed like any other major championship. However, the cheering factions lacked a common uniform, flag or even language.
Team USA’s Jennie Gai won gold with the mixed international team dubbed “Alpha.” Gai’s teammates came from every corner of the globe: Italy, Cameroon, Bulgaria, India, Sweden, Canada and Sri Lanka.
“It feels amazing to be a gold medalist,” Gai said. “I never expected this.”
The team relay is an innovative badminton event with eight teams of eight players - four men and four women on each. They play ties of 10 matches, and players accumulate points until they reach a winning total of 110 points.
Team Alpha defeated Team Omega, 110-106.
Gai competed in the women’s doubles and women’s singles match for Team Alpha. In doubles, Team Alpha lost the match 55-52. But Gai rebounded in singles action, taking the win 77-75.
For someone who traveled to Buenos Aires as the sole badminton athlete on Team USA, Gai was not lacking for camaraderie during the relay event. As Team Alpha’s final two athletes, Maria Delcheva of Bulgaria and Hasini Nusaka Ambalangodage of Sri Lanka, competed in women’s doubles, Gai was anxiously cheering them on from the side of the court. Gai’s cheering methods alternated between doubling over on the ground, cheering with empty shuttlecock tubes, jumping up and down, closing her eyes and running back and forth on the adjacent court and holding hands with her teammates.
“At the end I was just hoping to get one more point,” Gai said. “Because we had the lead at that point, we just couldn’t lose it. I was just praying for a miracle that we’d win one more point.”
As Team Alpha earned the final point to reach 110, Gai and her teammates rushed the court and embraced one another.
“I think this idea of a team relay was a really good concept to introduce,” Gai said. “In the beginning, we didn’t know each other, but as the days went by and we played the matches, we started becoming fiends and we became closer, and now I have seven new friends. At future tournaments we’ll be able to see each other and hit or go out to eat with one another.”
While they started off as strangers from eight different countries, they left sharing a moment they’ll never forget.