Learn an Olympic Sport: Badminton

Yong Dae Lee and Yeon Seong Yoo of South Korea at the BWF Dubai World Superseries 2015 Finals.

Warren Little/Getty Images for Falcon

The Rio Olympics are about to start, and admit it, you don’t know the first thing about any of these sports.

You probably know the USA Olympic basketball team, and probably a gymnast or two, but the rest of the sports — it’s fine if you’re drawing a blank.

We’re here to help.

The Olympics is the greatest festival — perhaps Carnival is the better term here — of sport the world has to offer, and there are a lot of sports you’ve never watched that will be beamed directly to your television sets and smartphones this August.

Now’s the time to fall in love with a new sport. Let us introduce you:

Aug. 11 to 20

The leisurely backyard favorite is intense at the Olympic level. Crazy intense. If you enjoy high-level tennis, you’ll definitely fall for badminton.


You have a racket, a net, a shuttlecock and some lines. The rules are simple — don’t let the shuttlecock touch the court. If you let it touch the court, your opponent gets a point. Sets are won by being the first to 21 while winning by two. First to two sets wins. It’s a pretty simple game. Now, you can’t play a shuttlecock that’s outside the lines (you have to let it fall out of bounds so you get a point) and you cannot touch the net. Team or player that wins the last point earns serve for the next. Watch for a few minutes and you’ll get the hang of it.

Not really, but they’re getting a lot better. For the first time, the U.S. has a representative in all five events — men’s and women’s singles and doubles and mixed doubles. Women’s doubles team Eva Lee (who competed in Beijing in 2008) and Paula Lynn Obanana, who won gold at the 2015 Pan American Games, are the USA’s best bet at a medal.

This is a sport that is huge in Southeast Asia. China, in particular, is a powerhouse, but badminton has worldwide appeal and medal contenders from across the globe.

The men’s singles competition will be particularly intense this year. China’s Lin Dan, the first ever back-to-back Olympic badminton gold medalist, is aiming for three straight, but will have to beat countryman and favorite Chen Long as well as Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, the consensus two best players in the world. Keeping them earnest are the No. 4 and No. 5 players in the world, Viktor Axelsen and Jan O. Jorgensen of Denmark.

The women’s singles competition should be won by Spain’s Carolina Marin, with China’s Wang Yihan and reigning Olympic champion Li Xuerui also in the medal hunt.

The men’s doubles competition favorites are South Koreans Lee Yong Dae and Yoo Yeon Seong.

In women’s doubles, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but China’s Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang are defending Olympic champions and third in the world rankings, despite only playing half the tournaments of their competitors.

Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei of China are prohibitive favorites in the mixed doubles competition.