Chris Jogis, the top badminton player in the United States, can understand why many people don't take his sport seriously. Even he once thought badminton was a pastime for picnickers--not skilled athletes.
"Before I was playing, I was an All-American sports fan and I couldn't imagine this being a real sport either," Jogis said.
"I was as ignorant to the sport as America is now. But once I saw the sport, I was hooked."
The teen-age addiction has become a way of life for Jogis, who will compete in the Carlton U.S. Open Badminton Championships today through Sunday at UC Irvine's Bren Center. And that means he often has some explaining to do.
Badminton? Outside the United States, it's one of the most popular sports--second only to soccer in worldwide participants, Jogis says. It takes quickness, strength and endurance to master the second-fastest racquet sport in the world behind jai alai, he continues.
"It's a little trying sometimes," Jogis said. "But as a top player, I'm kind of a spokesman for the sport. Sometimes I get tired of explaining, but if I want the sport to be more well-known, I have to keep doing it."
Jogis hopes the inclusion of badminton in the 1992 Olympic Games will help with the sales job. It was an exhibition sport in the 1988 Olympics. Exposure is the key, he said. In his experience, no one who sees competitive badminton for the first time leaves disappointed.
Jogis, who works with the planning committee for the U.S. Olympic Festival '91, which will be held next summer in Los Angeles, invited some of his co-workers from the committee to a match at last summer's festival in Minneapolis.
"They were just stunned how exciting and fun it was to watch," Jogis said.
After being introduced to badminton at 13 in his junior high school in Palo Alto, Jogis began playing the sport at the club level. Within his first year of serious competition, he and partner Benny Lee won a national championship in boys' doubles.
Lee was then the best young player in the nation, Jogis said, taking Jogis along for the ride. But by the time he was 17, Jogis had caught up and won his first national singles title, defeating Lee in the finals of the 18-and-under division in 1983.
Jogis continued his success at Arizona State, one of the few schools to offer badminton scholarships. He won three consecutive national collegiate titles in men's singles and he and Lee also won three men's doubles titles.
While at Arizona State, Jogis took a step up and entered his first international competition. He won his first-round match at the 1984 Canadian Open but lost to a seeded player in the second.
"It was just an honor to play," Jogis said.
After graduating from Arizona State in 1987, he joined the international Grand Prix tour, hoping to continue improving his game enough to qualify for the 1992 Olympics.
Life is hard for touring badminton professionals, but it might be worse for Jogis, the top-ranked American who ranks about 50th in the world. Badminton is a popular spectator sport in Europe and especially Asia, but there is no glory and few financial rewards for Jogis, who has only once advanced to the quarterfinals on the international tour.
"Within the circuit everybody knows me as the top American," Jogis said. "And if anyone cares about America, they may come out and watch but I wouldn't say I have any cult group following me anywhere."
The U.S. Olympic Committee puts aside about $200,000 a year to help develop the sport in this country and Jogis and a few of the other top Americans are sponsored by Carlton Sports Co., a manufacturer of badminton equipment.
But is still difficult for Americans to develop into world-class players, said Tariq Wadood, club professional at Manhattan Beach Badminton Club. The pool of American players is so small it's difficult to find good players to practice against. It's also tough to find places to practice because badminton courts are rare.
Jogis moved to Holland last year to find better practice competition and to be closer to the many European tournaments. Upon his return to the States, he moved to Manhattan Beach, home of the only all-Badminton Club in the nation.
From this base, he is working toward the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. To qualify, he will probably have to be the top player in the Pan American zone. Jogis said he currently has that ranking, but will be challenged by the Canadians.
Indonesia's Fung Permadi, who was ranked 12th in the world last year and the highest-ranked men's player in the U.S. Open, is the top-seeded player in the competition that starts at noon today. . . . The Open's purse is $15,000, the minimum prize money for an event on the $1-million Grand Prix tour. . . . Denyse Julien of Canada, who is among the top 10 women's players in the world, is seeded first in women's singles. No American woman is seeded in the tournament.