CANADIAN NATIONALS – Three three-peats in Gatineau

Four of the five first seeds of the 2013 Canadian were awarded gold on Saturday at the Centre sportif de Gatineau.  Canadian badminton definitely has a generation of solid young players as three of the wins were three-peats.

Article and photos by Yves Lacroix

Who is the biggest winner at Canada’s ?  Is it Michelle Li,  Adrian Liu and Derrick Ng (pictured) or Toby Ng / Grace Gao, all of whom won their third consecutive titles in Gatineau this past weekend (in women’s singles, men’s doubles, and mixed doubles respectively)?  Is it veteran Bobby Milroy, who won his second men’s singles title a whopping 11 years later after his first?  Or is it newcomer Phyllis Chan, who joins the club of champions after her win in women’s doubles with Olympian and two-time winner Alex Bruce?

Rarely has a facility such as the Centre sportif de Gatineau seen the occurrence of such unanimity amongst tournament players and fans.  All present were particularly delighted with the two-year old facility whose draft-free gym offered 12 courts, a high ceiling and numerous spectator seats.  One could also notice how much the gym is the recipient of great care as the spectators were asked to take off their shoes and boots at the entrance.

Still, a hall is a hall but the organizers from the Association régionale de badminton de l’Outaouais (ARBO) – who definitely had the spectators’ comfort in mind – managed to give it a very warm and pleasant atmosphere for the last two days of the competition by using only the centre part of the gymnasium and lowering the lights in the rest of the hall.  ARBO also had the good idea of not asking for an entrance fee, which surely helped ensure the presence of over 300 spectators – amongst whom Gatineau Mayor Marc Bureau and a captivated Françoise Boivin, MP for Gatineau – for the last day of the tournament.  Live score was even available for the spectators and anxious parents who couldn’t make it to the venue.

Françoise Boivin was not the only one to admire the players’ skills as the line judges – mostly youngsters from local ARBO clubs – chased the players to get autographs on their shirts, shoes, and even shuttlecock tubes.  Line judging was, in general, flawless and an umpire even congratulated in private one of the youngsters for sticking to his decision after a tight call in one of the finals.

The day started off with Olympian Michelle Li (pictured) of Ontario defending her title against 17-year old Christin Tsai of British Columbia.  The youngster gave Li a good fight but her energy was not enough to counter Michelle Li’s superior technique and experience.  Despite the 44-minute 21-16, 21-18 contest, Li hardly broke a sweat in winning her third consecutive women’s singles title.

The 21-year-old Li – who was at the centre of attention of world badminton after being promoted with partner Alex Bruce to the quarter-finals following the disqualification of four women’s doubles pairs at the London Games – explained to Badzine why and how she changed partners after their fourth place Olympic finish.

“The events in London were so unexpected.  It showed me that you never know what can happen and that motivates me for the 2016 games,” said Li.  “Now I know I have that ability to go far and I will definitely work for it.  Alex and I had already planned to split up after London so it seemed natural to team up with Grace Gao, who was moving to Toronto.”

“Michelle’s fourth place at London really attracted a lot of attention on our club and improved her government funding,” said Li’s personal coach Jennifer Lee.  “Unfortunately, as her personal coach, I was not able to help Michelle during the Games and I hope I’ll be able to get involved with the team in the future.  My wish is to be able to help Michelle and the other ladies on the Canadian team as I really want them to prosper towards Rio 2016.

“For Michelle, regular encounters with the best players from China and Korea would certainly be a faster way to improve and maybe reach the quarter-final stages in Superseries events”, concluded the Lee’s Badminton Centre head coach.

In men’s singles, first-seed and two-time winner Alex Pang had his chances against a tiring Bobby Milroy (pictured above) but the latter took advantage of costly mistakes made by his opponent and topped off a 21-17, 21-16 victory in 38 minutes.

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Canadian women's doubles medallists (left to right): Joycelyn Ko / Christin Tsai (silver), Alex Bruce / Phyllis Chan (gold), Michelle Li / Grace Gao (bronze) © Yves Lacroix

The 34-year old veteran was obviously delighted with his second title: “It’s cool to win even though I now have a different perspective on the game.  At the time I won my first title in 2002, I found it very difficult to lose.  Now, I would only feel bad for a few moments and life would go on.  Being older and having kids made me realize I wouldn’t be a lesser person because I lose a game,” said a very relaxed Milroy after his win.

“I don’t think I’m better than the guys I played against at these championships.  I had a very close call against Sergiy Shatenko in the earlier rounds but my experience came in and my ability to play different styles helped me survive at crucial moments.  Sometimes you just get it,” concluded, with a smile, the oldest title holder of the day.

Women’s doubles offered the closest and longest match of the day when Joycelyn Ko and Christin Tsai went down to first seeds Alex Bruce and Phyllis Chan in a 21-13, 16-21, 21-13 contest.  Chan had added pressure on her shoulders as she was the only one on court in her first final whilst Tsai was back on court after her defeat in women’s singles earlier.

“The 2013 Canadian Nationals in Gatineau has been an amazing experience for me,” said Phyllis Chan (pictured below) afterward.   “This is the first time I have played in Gatineau and the tournament was fantastic.  The gym had all of the ideal badminton conditions such as a high celling, good lighting and no draft.

“The tournament was on time the entire week and the smooth transition of umpires and line judges was impressive.  The best and most unexpected surprise was the great crowd turnout for the finals.  All of the bleachers in the gym were full and spectators had to go upstairs to the balcony for more seating.  It was great to see badminton getting so much exposure,” resumed Chan after her win.

“To be honest, I still feel like I am dreaming.  It has not fully dawned upon me that Alex and I have actually won the women’s doubles title!  Alex and I are still a fairly new pair and despite winning the Pan American Championship title last October, this is our first Championship playing together.

Canadian mixed doubles medallists (left to right): Phyllis Chan / Philippe Charron (silver), Grace Gao / Toby Ng (gold), Rachel Honderich / Andrew Lau (bronze) © Yves Lacroix

“Joyce and Christin had a very strong showing in the semi-finals and we knew that they would be fighting us every point for the gold.  Winning this tournament greatly boosts our confidence as a pair,” added the 21-year old Vancouverite.

In men’s doubles, Adrian Liu / Derrick Ngblasted Nathan Choi and Alvin Lau in super quick fashion.  Liu and Ng’s relentless attack was just too strong for Choi and Lau who could do nothing much to counter the oncoming train of smashes and kills.  Liu and Ng bagged a 21-15, 21-9 victory for their third consecutive title.

Toby Ng and Grace Gao offered a similar performance in mixed doubles against Philippe Charron – Québec’s only remaining player in the finals – and Phyllis Chan.  Ng and Gao – a well-established pair on the Canadian circuit – needed only 20 minutes to score victory against the Québec-BC partnership.  Despite the coaching of Québec legend Denyse Julien, the latter’s lack of experience as a pair was perfectly exploited by Ng and Gao for the third three-peat of the 2013 Canadian .

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