Clint Walper, The StarPhoenix
Published: Wednesday, September 05, 2007
You could say Anna Rice is coping well with life abroad.
Rice, Canada's top-ranked female badminton singles player, lives and trains in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she shuttles to and fro as a professional badminton player.
Rice arrived in Saskatoon yesterday and will begin singles competition today when the first round of the Canadian Open badminton championships begins at the Riverside Badminton and Tennis Club.
The 27-year old Vancouver native moved to Denmark seven years ago to train at the International Badminton Academy. Since then, Rice has been training for four hours a day along with playing in the world's top professional badminton league.
Already a two-time national singles champion, and having competed in doubles at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Rice is fairly decorated. But her sights are now firmly set on Bejing and the 2008 Olympics.
"I'm really looking forward to the next Olympics because badminton will be to Bejing what hockey will be to us in 2010," said Rice. "It will be one of the huge showcase events so that will be really exciting."
Rice is currently ranked 22nd in the world. She'll quality if she's the top-ranked Canadian, a spot she currently holds.
"I almost made it in singles for Athens, missing by only two ranking spots, so that was too bad. But in a way it was great because I got to go and experience the Olympics, but it made me even hungrier to qualify in singles," said Rice.
Badminton holds a small piece of a hockey dominated sports pie in Canada, which gave Rice the impetus to trek across the Atlantic. After the junior-age level, Canadian badminton players are faced with a daunting future in the sport. Opportunities are few and far between to justify a continued pursuit of the game and move forward. As such, most athletes give it up after high school and go on to pursue university education.
But Rice chose a different path. She considered voyaging to an Asian country, where badminton's stock soars, but felt the cultural differences would be too taxing. Instead, she found Denmark, a badminton hotbed that's been a bona fide boon to her development.
"I was looking for that extra edge after the junior age. I felt that system here couldn't take me any further, and if I hadn't had that opportunity, I would have had to stop. Right now it's the only place I can see myself continuing to improve," said Rice.
Rice survives on money earned in her match league, along with grants from the Canadian government. Life as a professional badminton player isn't exactly a lucrative venture, with Rice noting that only a handful of players in the world are making money in the sport. For her, it's a break-even lifestyle, but one she and a few other select Canucks are eagerly embracing.
"Right now, we have a really dedicated group of six to eight athletes who've kind of found a way to go it alone," said Rice. "There's four of us in living in Europe, three in Denmark, and we're finding a way to do it because it's the only way we can do it."
The last time Rice was in Saskatoon was in 1993, where she and older sister Amy played doubles in the junior nationals. She's excited to be back.
"I don't usually get to play the Canadian Open because it often interferes with my tournament schedule, so this year I was really happy to be able to fit it in," said Rice. "I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Men's and women's singles play begins at 9 a.m. this morning and matches continue throughout the day at Riverside. Tickets for single day are $8 at the door, with kids under 14 admitted free with an adult.