Former U.S. badminton champion and potential Olympian Mike Flexer played this weekend in the Eastern Badminton Tournament, and brought home a first place C-level trophy.
Flexer, a Harvard freshman, lost in the first-round of the A-levels, but dropped down to the C-levels and easily topped three opponents to claim the little in that division.
The tourney, which brought 130 badminton players to Network, Conn., was one of the few Flexer will be able to compete in this year. He will play in a large tournament in Boston this winter, and will return to his native California in April to compete in the 18-and-under division of the Nationals, which will determine his rank for this year.
Flexer, who is currently third in the country, considered himself a favorite to cop the national title in the spring. A favorite, that is, until he decided to attend Harvard.
"It bothers me that I don't get to play a lot now," Flexer said. "It is my last year in the 18 and unders and I was hoping to win the Nationals this year. But I'll be training--doing running and sprint work."
Harvard is home to the country's best intercollegiate squash program and boasts students like Kenton Jernigan, the reigning national amateur squash champion.
Other racquet sports don't fair so well in Cambridge and Flexer, the only noted Crimson badminton player, is pretty much on his own.
The 8 prescott resident is trying to balance a schedule that includes long hours studying and playing the cello, commitments that leave Flexer with little time for badminton practice.
Flexer first became involved in badminton the summer before his freshman year in high school.
An Individual Sport
Looking for a sport was a challenge for 5-ft., 8-in., 140-lb. Flexer "I was too short for basketball, not strong enough for football, and not good enough for baseball," he said. "I like badminton because it is a very individual sport--you can control the game yourself."
Since then, Flexer has played in about 40 tournaments, including the national 15-and-under boy's singles championship in 1983. Last year, after a bad draw and a tough defeat in the semifinals, he placed third in the Nationals.
Flexer plans to continue playing badminton as seriously as possible. "My goal is to go to the Olympics in seven years. By then it will be an offical Olympic sport. It depends if I have time to train--if I can work around school. If I put in the time and effort, there's no reason why I can't make the Olympic team."
As badminton is now played by only 2000 Americans, Flexer stressed his desire that the sport gain more recognition in the U.S. "It is important to introduce badminton to many people because it is a fascinating sport. Most people are ignorant to it.
"In the United States badminton is very weak. It is the number one sport in Indonesia, and is really big in India, China, Japan, and Europe. I think most people in the U.S. don't really know what it is. They think it is a backyard game."
Badminton is played indoors on hard plastic supreme courts. Flexer described the game as strenuous and very quick, with the birdie sometimes flying up to 100 miles per hour.