Some of the world's best badminton players converge on Orange County today as the U.S. Open Badminton Championships begin at the Orange County Badminton Club in Orange.
More than 200 athletes will be competing for $200,000 in prize money, the biggest purse of any individual badminton event in history. Qualifying rounds begin today with the semifinals Friday and the finals Saturday.
The field includes medal winners from the Atlanta Olympics, as well as some of the world's top-ranked players.
"Several players are coming to the U.S. Open after competing in the Olympics," said Paisan Rangsikitpho, vice president of the U.S. Badminton Assn. and chairman of the U.S. Open Organizing Committee.
Gold medal-winner Erik-Poul Hoyer-Larsen of Denmark, as well as countryman Thomas Laurdson, 1992 Olympic bronze medalist, will head the field in men's singles. And Colorado Springs' Kevin Han, a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, will round out the field in singles.
South Korea's Kim Dong Moon mixed double's gold medalist in Atlanta, will compete in men's and mixed doubles. And the silver medalists in men's doubles, Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock of Malaysia will hope to improve on their No. 2 ranking in the world.
On the women's side, Lim Xiaoqing the top-ranked player in the world, has withdrawn from the tournament because of an injury.
Mia Audina of Indonesia, the 1996 silver medalist will compete in women's singles, as well as Kathy Zimmerman of Denver.
Zimmerman, 23, won the bronze medal in the 1995 Pan American games in singles and doubles and recorded 13 U.S. junior national titles when she was younger.
La Jolla's Ann French, the badminton team leader for the 1996 Olympic team, will compete in doubles. French, 36, was a member of every U.S. national team from 1984 to 1995. Also competing in doubles is Eileen Tang of Chino, a 1996 U.S. national semifinalist.
Tickets for this week's event are $5-8 during qualifying rounds, $10 for the semifinals and $12 for the finals. A $30 all-event ticket is also available and there are discounts for students and USBA members.