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World badminton championships enter second week in Spokane

The U.S. mixed doubles team (right court) in action at the World Junior Badminton Championships at The Podium in Spokane
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
The U.S. mixed doubles team (right court) in action at the World Junior Badminton Championships at The Podium in Spokane

Badminton players from nearly 40 nations are competing for world titles in Spokane.

The Podium is hosting the sport’s World Junior Championships, featuring players 19 and younger. The team awards — women’s, men’s and mixed doubles — were decided last week. The singles championships are the focus this week. The tournament will wrap up October 8.

It comes just a few months after the venue hosted USA Badminton’s Junior National Championships.

“It’s a great facility,” said Linda French, the CEO of USA Badminton.

These are several of the nine courts at The Podium which have been continuously busy for the last week.
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
These are several of the nine courts at The Podium which have been continuously busy for the last week.

“We can have nine competition courts and, behind the curtains, we have the practice courts and the warmup courts, so the players don’t have to go travel to a different place in vans and to use transportation. We’ve got hotels right here, so everything is walkable. We’re downtown in the city, great restaurants, great places to go, the park. We’re on the river.”

Many of the badminton powerhouse nations are in Asia, including Indonesia, China and South Korea. Denmark is a leader in Europe.

The U.S. is not yet at their level, but things may be changing. French says it’s a time of rapid growth for badminton in the U.S.

“Texas is a growing area, North Carolina, Chicago. The cultures that play badminton, India, China, other Asian countries, a lot of parents want their children to play those sports, so in areas where those populations are growing, badminton is hugely expanding,” she said.

French herself was a championship-level player. She grew up in Chicago, the daughter of parents who played the sports. She went on to play for U.S. Olympicbadminton teams in 1992 (Barcelona) and 1996 (Atlanta).

“Barcelona was very exciting for all badminton players because it was the first time we were in as a full-medal sport, so everything was new. Atlanta, obviously, because we were the host. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to walk into the stadium (during the opening ceremony),” she said.

Badminton may not be a go-to sport for athletes in the U.S., but it is a fun and fast-paced sport to watch.

“Most people think of playing in your back yard, casual, and then you come here and you see what high performance badminton is. That shuttlecock’s moving 300 miles per hour. The athleticism. The matches are running three hours but the longest one went about eight hours. So the level of stamina that comes with this sport is under appreciated,” said Ashley Blake, the CEO of Spokane Sports, which worked with USA Badminton to bring the national and world junior tournaments to The Podium.

It’s the first time Spokane has hosted a world championship event in any sport. Blake hopes it will be a foot in the door to similar events.

“Hosting a world championship for badminton is certainly transferable to other sports,” she said. “I think it maybe makes our conversations go a little bit easier with other Olympic governing bodies or other collegiate organizations like the NCAA. We can say, ‘Hey, Spokane just put on a two-week long world championship and they’re getting great feedback and great results.’ I think that’s something that certainly translates.”

The sports on Blake’s bucket list for Spokane?

“We would love to host a premier gymnastics championship. That’s the one that is on our radar,” she said.

With One Spokane Stadium now online, Blake says the north bank area of Riverfront Park now has a sports campus feel with the stadium in close proximity to The Podium and the Spokane Arena.

“It gives us some flexibility to host events in multiple facilities,” she said. “It’s having this compact campus setting you can walk to. Close proximity to hotels, close proximity to restaurants makes all the difference in the world. The more we travel and see events in other cities, we’re learning how unique that is.”

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.