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Wednesday, 9 August, 2000, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
The fastest racquet sport
Ask people what the fastest racquet sport in the world is and it is likely that most would say tennis, or even squash. Few would come up with badminton, but those who did would be right.
A shuttlecock, struck by one of the top players in the world with a modern racquet, can travel up to 200 mph. Not bad for a piece of equipment made from sticking goose feathers into a piece of cork.
The sport is extremely demanding. The shuttle travels so fast that players have to possess superb reflexes to keep it in play, together with awesome stamina.
Top players have been known to cover up to four miles in a single match. Therefore, players must be extremely agile and light on their feet to counter the unpredictable flight of the shuttle.
Rallies last for much longer than tennis - about ten shots more on average - and the shuttle is in play for roughly double the time.
So those who dismiss it as a genteel game involving delicate pats back and forth over a net could not be more wrong, even more so after recent events involving a major hotel chain accusing players of trashing their hotel rooms with behaviour more fitting of rock stars.
Badminton is similar to tennis in that the court possesses tramlines acting as boundaries and a net, which is 150 cm high.
Like tennis, Olympic badminton comprises of five events - men's singles and doubles, women's single and doubles, and mixed doubles, which was introduced at the last Games in Atlanta.
In singles, the players will try to make their opponent move across the whole court, measuring 44 ft by 17 ft, forcing them out of position in order to deal the killer blow.
In doubles, where the court is wider by three feet, most teams will try to whip the ball low across the net so that the opposition can only keep the shuttle in play by lobbing it back over the net, so allowing them to smash the shuttle back at fierce speeds.
The players are so agile that most points are won by errors, such as hitting the net or going outside the court boundaries, rather than extravagant winners being hit.
A badminton match contains three games and the first player or team to win two games takes the match. A game, in the doubles and men's singles, is won by the first to reach 15 points, but only if they are two points clear.
In women's singles the first player to 11 points wins, though again they must be two points clear.
If a match reaches 14 points all (10 points all for women) then the players can choose to 'set', which means the first person or team that reaches 17 wins the game (13 for women's singles.)
If the players choose not to 'set' then the game finishes at the usual point. Points can only be scored on a serve, while the receiving side seeks solely to win the right to serve.
Britain's best medal hopes lay in the doubles event and both involve Simon Archer.
With Nathan Robertson he will be hoping to emulate their feat in the recent World Championships when they won the bronze medal. His best chance may well lay in the mixed doubles, paired with Jo Goode, a combination that won the world silver medal.
In the women's singles Wales' Kelly Morgan, the Commonwealth Champion, will be hoping she can perform as well as she did in the World Championships, when she reached the quarter-finals.
The favourites for the women's gold include China's Ye Zhaoying and Gong Zichao, with another Dane, Camilla Martin, flying the flag for Europe.
In the men's, look out for China's Sun Jun and Indonesia's Budi Santoso, with Denmark's Peter Grade Christiansen providing the best European threat.
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