When the XXXII Olympic Games officially begin on Friday in Tokyo, alumnus Timothy Lam, a member of Team USA, will be there participating in the Parade of Nations as a competitor in men’s singles badminton.
The Tokyo Games will include 11,500 athletes, from 205 countries, competing in 33 sports, including baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing, which are new to the games.
While many Americans may picture badminton as a relaxed backyard game, fans of the sport know that the sport’s official small court size and lightweight shuttlecock make badminton the fastest racquet sport in the world, with the shuttlecock traveling up to 186 miles/per hour.
Lam, who majored in accounting and graduated in 2018, started playing badminton when he was just 6, inspired by watching his older brother and role model, Zenas Lam (’15, architecture), play and train at their local badminton club in Mountain View, CA. In high school, Timothy Lam was training about three hours a day and then completing his schoolwork. His focus was on improving his game and seeing how far he could go.
“Badminton requires so much hand-eye coordination, agility and lots of physical strength,” explained Lam. “What motivates me is to get better and to be the best at what I’m doing.”
A pivotal moment in his athletic career came his senior year in high school. Competing in the 2014 Pan American (Pan Am) Junior Championships in Guatemala, Lam won a gold medal in Boy’s Singles, a silver in Boys’ Doubles and a Bronze in Mixed Doubles.
“When I won that event in 2014, I knew I wanted to compete at the Olympic level even though there was no certainty I could do it,” Lam said. “Even if I didn’t make it, I knew I would develop abilities I could use for my future.”
Determined to go to college and advance his training, he connected with Tony Gunawan, a former world champion and Olympic gold medalist, who coached players at the San Gabriel Valley Badminton Club, which was walking distance from campus. Lam trained with Gunawan and his team while studying accounting at Cal Poly Pomona.
With the 2020 Olympic Games in mind, Lam took summer classes in 2017 so he could graduate a year early and focus on qualifying for the Olympic team by competing in tournaments around the world.
Lam competed in Peru, Australia, Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Bahrain, Dubai and Los Angeles, raising his world ranking from 94 to 85. It was a busy and lonely time for the athlete who generally traveled solo. The highlights, he said, were meeting the international athletes and seeing different parts of the world.
By March 2020, when California enacted its stay-at-home order, Lam had not yet accumulated enough points to qualify for the Olympics. Like many athletes around the world, Lam had to figure out how to train on his own, would qualifying events be rescheduled and when or event if the 2020 Olympics would even be held.
“With the Olympics postponed, the pandemic, tournaments canceled, and badminton clubs being closed so I couldn’t train most of the time, there was a lot of uncertainty, so it was a tough time,” said Lam.
Last October Lam returned to competition with an event in Denmark. Earlier this year, he competed in Poland, Switzerland and the final Olympic qualifying tournament in Guatemala where he advanced to the quarterfinal. The COVID protocols included testing before and during the tournament, eating meals in the hotel, and often no spectators at the games. Despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, Lam focused on improving his game and earning his spot on Team USA.
Since finding out he earned a spot on Team USA on July 5, he’s been looking forward to the whole Olympic experience.
“I’m most excited about being part of TEAM USA and competing with all of the best athletes from all over the country,” said Lam, who is looking forward to walking in the opening ceremonies.
“I’m just in awe of some of the athletes. Sometimes when you watch other sports, you see how hard they work to win a gold medal. Especially when I was growing up, I would watch the Olympics on TV, and I saw Michael Phelps win so many gold medals. Being able to compete alongside these athletes is something I can’t comprehend.”
A total of 172 badminton players will compete in in five categories at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo. Men’s singles play begins July 25. The full badminton schedule and scores can be found at https://olympics.bwfbadminton.com/schedule/. Live scores will be posted on the website. NBC says it will air badminton matches live at https://www.nbcolympics.com/schedule/sport/badminton