U.S. Badminton Duo Is Ready for Prime Time


BEIJING — During the first week they spent in China, Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong took a camcorder everywhere they went, mimicking behind-the-scenes television segments while filming their adventures.

On the eighth day, the United States badminton men’s doubles duo of Bach and Malaythong switched from recording history to making it. The latest segment of the Howard and Bob Show took place at the rowdy Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium, where fans clapped cheer sticks, waved flags and shouted chants.

Bach and Malaythong were back in front of the camera Tuesday for the first time since they starred in a Vitamin Water commercial against the Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and the Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. They beat a South African team easily, 21-10, 21-16.

That moved them into the quarterfinals, an Olympic first for an American doubles team. There they will face the No. 2 seed, a Chinese team that will be playing in front of its home crowd, Wednesday afternoon.

“Obviously, we’re the underdogs,” Bach said.

They seem to like it that way. In the first round, they were a jumble of emotions: favored, nervous and stylish to boot. Malaythong wore his lucky stars-and-stripes bandana; Bach an earring that glimmered under the bright lights.

In the days before the match, Malaythong tried to visualize what the scene would be like. He pictured the crowd, felt the surge of energy and adrenaline. It seemed so real, at least until he arrived and everything was different.

“This is probably the biggest crowd I’ve played in front of,” he said. “Nothing could prepare me for this.”

Bach and Malaythong fell behind early, their nerves frayed. Eventually, they settled in, working the court like a couple of pool sharks playing all the angles.

They were playing for the rest of the American team, all of whom had lost by the time they took the court. They were playing for their families: Malaythong’s relatives reside in Maryland and Laos; Bach’s in San Francisco and Vietnam. And they were playing for a slice of American badminton history, which they acknowledge is not exactly voluminous.

After they won, their attention turned immediately to their quarterfinal match. They heard the crowd cheering for their Chinese opponents on another court, a preview of what they will face Wednesday. Expecting a hostile crowd, Bach urged American badminton fans to bring their air horns.

“We play better as the underdogs,” Malaythong said. “Today we were the favorites, so there was a lot of pressure on us to win. We did it, but we just got by. We’ll play so much better tomorrow, because we’re the underdog, and we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Bach, competing in his second Olympics, has shocked the badminton world before. Playing with a different partner, he won a world championship in 2005.

Even that would not compare to the Olympics, Bach said. He relayed a story from his friend, the speed skater Apolo Ohno, who Bach said told him American fans care more about Olympic medals than ones from a world championship.

For at least another day, Bach and Malaythong plan to leave the camcorder at home.

“I’m ready to make history,” Malaythong said. “We’re going to make history again.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here