badminton China London 2012 Olympics
Olympic badminton.

Previewing the Sports You Know Nothing About: Badminton

China, China, and China

badminton China London 2012 Olympics
Ryan O'Hanlon

Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.


You hit this thing called a shuttlecock, which is basically a cork with plastic wings that weighs less than one-fifth of an ounce, over a five-foot-high net without letting it hit the ground. You score a point the same way you would in tennis or volleyball. Serves must be hit underhand. Courts are 44 feet long and 17 feet wide for singles, 20 feet wide for doubles. There are 10 line judges, one service judge, and a chair umpire. Each match is best-of-three-sets, which are played to 21. You must win by two—but sets end whenever someone reaches 30, no matter the differential. All competitions start with a group stage, followed by a single-elimination tournament. Medal dates are August 3 (mixed doubles), August 4 (women’s singles and doubles), and August 5 (men’s singles and doubles).

Since badminton debuted at the 1992 Olympics, the Chinese have won the most medals: 30 total, 11 gold. Indonesia (17 total) and South Korea (16 total) have each won six gold medals. Malaysia is the only other country to ever win an Olympic gold in badminton. No human being has won more than two gold medals.

“Super Dan” is the guy’s name. Well, Lin Dan is his real name, and he’s both the defending Olympic and World Champion. Lin’s won basically every badminton tournament in existence and is probably the greatest badminton player ever, despite only being 28. He also punched his coach once, and there are a bunch of pictures of him standing on a badminton court without his shirt on. Wang Yihan, also Chinese, has been the number-one women’s player since 2009, and she’s the favorite to take home gold. All of the Chinese doubles teams are defending World Champions, too. So: China!

The short answer: no. The long answer: The U.S. has never won a medal in badminton—except they’ll have a gold medalist on this year’s squad in former-Indonesian, current-American Tony Gunawan, a 37-year-old who won men’s doubles gold for Indonesia in 2000. Gunawan, now a U.S. citizen, and his partner, 33-year-old Howard Bach, won the 2005 World Championships, but those were the 2005 World Championships and not the 2012 Olympics. Any badminton medals for the U.S. would be a shock.

The John McEnroe of Badminton,” by Richard Deitsch