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Badminton at the 2012 London Summer Olympics

Originally dubbed “Poona” after the Indian town where it was invented, Olympic badminton has come a long way since its early days as a past-time for 19th century British military officers. The sport came to be called badminton after the Duke of Beaufort played it at his residence of, known as Badminton House.

Badminton debuted as an Olympic sport at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Despite its European roots, the Asian countries of China, Korea, and Indonesia have dominated Olympic competitions since the beginning, winning all but one medal awarded prior to 2012.

What is a badminton shuttlecock?

Olympic badminton is sort of like tennis with a twist: it’s played with a net and a racket, but instead of a ball, players hit a small flying shuttlecock back and forth across the net. A shuttlecock — more informally called a "bird," "birdie," or simply a "shuttle" — is a lightweight (about 5 grams), cone-shaped object.

This curious flying object is formed by weaving together 16 overlapping goose feathers (usually from only the goose’s left wing, which provides the best shaped feathers for the purpose). The feathers are lashed together in a circle, and a rounded cork tip is placed at the end.

Although its origin is not certain, “shuttlecock” is thought to be derived from the act of shuttling (passing) a cockerel (rooster or “cock”) back and forth across the net, similar to shuttling yarn across a weaving loom.

Olympic badminton basics

Badminton can be played between two individuals (singles) or two pairs of players (doubles) who face off on either side of the net. Here’s what you can expect to see:

  1. A coin toss determines the serving team. The first service is always made from the right side of the court.

    The shuttle is also served from the right side any time the serving team’s score is odd. If the score is an even number, service comes from the left side.

  2. Players volley the shuttlecock back and forth across a net by striking the cork tip with a racquet, attempting to land it on the ground within the boundaries of the opponent’s court.

    Some strategic badminton moves include:

    • Smash: A shot directed straight down from high overhead into the competitor’s court.

    • Lift: A lift sails high over the court toward the back of the opponent’s court.

    • Drive: Just like a line drive in baseball, a drive makes the shuttlecock fly across the net almost horizontally, just barely clearing the net.

  3. The same player continues to serve until he or she loses the point.

    The opposing team then wins the serve. In doubles play, players rotate who serves with each new service opportunity.

  4. A game is won by the first player/team to reach 21 points with at least a two-point lead.

    In the rare event that a game is still tied at 29-29, it becomes sudden death, and the first player to score another point wins the game.

  5. A match is won by the player or team that wins the best of three games.

The badminton court for doubles play is 6.1 meters wide and 13.4 meters long. For singles, the court is the same length but slightly more narrow at 5.18 meters wide. A net stretched across the midway point divides the court in half.

The top of the net is only 1.55 meters (about 5 feet) high. Thus, an athlete’s physical height is not nearly as important as his or her agility. Badminton players have to have move very quickly and have great reflexes, however — those shuttlecocks are incredibly aerodynamic and can travel at speeds in excess of 250 miles per hour!

Olympic badminton competition format

Badminton medal competition for the 2012 London Olympics will be conducted July 28 through August 5 at the famous Wembley Arena in northwest London.

There are five Olympic badminton medal events: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. No country may enter more than three athletes in each singles event, and are allowed only two pairs in each doubles event, for a total of 172 athletes (86 men and 86 women).

In each event, the competitors are broken into pools. The field is gradually narrowed through a series of preliminary matches. Winners (16 in singles events; eight in pairs play) advance to a knockout round that eventually leads to the final medal matches.

For more information, visit the website of the sport’s governing body, the Badminton World Federation (BWF), headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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