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THE REAL GAME OF BADMINTON : This Bears Little Resemblance to Your Average Family Party in the Backyard

November 14, 1987|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

"The Orientals changed the game," said Rodney Barton, the 1983-84 national champion who grew up in Palo Alto playing with Jogis. "They play with a much quicker tempo, more upbeat. They keep more pressure on an opponent, they keep him from his own game plan. They don't mind the heat because it's hot where they come from and they have unbelievable stamina.

"Before they began to dominate the sport, badminton was a slower-paced game and, unfortunately, it still is in the United States except for a very few of the top players. Our image is still that of an outdoor, recreational game instead of a professional international sport."

Even at the highest level, the Americans are struggling. For instance, in the latest USBA rankings, two of the top three men players are foreigners now living here.

Wadood, who came from Pakistan two years ago after virtually retiring as a professional player in 1984, is No. 1, followed by Jogis and Yao Ximing, a former People's Republic of China phenom as a Canton teen-ager before he injured his back. Yao now confines most of his play to doubles with Wadood as his partner.

Yao, who won the All-Asian singles championship at 17, lives in Manhattan Beach and is studying English at the South Bay Adult School. In 1982, he was a member of the world championship Thomas Cup team--badminton's equivalent of tennis' Davis Cup--that defeated Indonesia in the finals at Wembley Stadium in London.

The plight of the Americans was never more apparent than at the 1987 World Championships in Beijing, China, where Jogis, the U.S. champion, lost in the first round.

"I met one of the top 10 players in the world in the first round because Americans don't rate any consideration in the draw," Jogis said. "The big thrill there was having my match on TV with my name in Chinese characters. The sport is so big in China that all 120 hours were on television, and there are only two channels so a lot of people had to see it.

"The entire game is different at that level and when you come back to the United States, if you're not careful, you revert back to the U. S. level. It's frustrating, but the only way I can see it changing is to get more quality players from here so we can raise our game to the international level.

"My dream is to get to the Olympics, but there is no guarantee that the United States will receive an invitation in 1988, when only a limited number of players will participate in the one-day exhibition. I would think that if we got one spot, though, I would get it if I can retain my ranking. So many things can happen before 1992 that I try not to look that far ahead."

In an attempt to improve play in the United States, Wadood and Yao were recruited earlier this year to coach the national team.

"Right now, we are doing our coaching at the Manhattan Beach club, but in 1989, when badminton will be on the Olympic schedule, we will become part of the Olympic development program at Colorado Springs," Wadood said. "That should be a big asset for the growth of the sport in the United States."

When that time comes, Wadood will face a difficult decision: To return to Pakistan and use his mechanical engineering education or remain in this country to help lift the badminton program to an international level.

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