‘I’ve never had so much fun losing in my whole life,” said Landon Kulych as he stepped off the Canada Winter Games badminton court.
The tall, blonde-haired, 19-year-old athlete was all smiles as he dropped his racket bag down beside him and took a swig from his water bottle.
Smiles and sports come naturally to Kulych.
His aunt, Vickie Dawe, had been beaming on the sidelines throughout Kulych’s losing match.
His cousin, Kaleb Dawe, was poised to play the same badminton tournament later that morning.
And two other cousins were set to play for the Yukon hockey team.
“I’m pumped,” said Kulych.
“It’s a great atmosphere, there’s a lot of energy here in this building.”
Kulych played two sets in round one of the men’s singles tournament and lost both to Tommy McKee, a nationally-ranked player from Ontario.
During the first match he was admittedly nervous, and lost 3 to 21. In the second match he worked out his butterflies and lost 7 to 21.
“I think Landon had some butterflies at the beginning,” said coach Mike Muller.
“He wasn’t using the court the way he needs to use the court; his shots weren’t going deep enough in the court.
“We talked a little bit between games and he picked it up and he got an extra four points in the second game and that’s direct to the fact that he’s taken this — he’s listened to me, he got over a little bit of his nervous jitters that he had at the beginning and he played better badminton.”
Kulych had nothing but praise for his opponent.
“Had a few good ones in there, snuck a few points behind him, but he was just an amazing athlete,” he said.
“It’s definitely the touch. I mean, these guys have been playing since they could hold a racket in their hand; they’ve been playing since kindergarten, so they have pretty good control out there — it’s outstanding.”
Kulych flew into Whitehorse for the Games from Edmonton, where he studies business and education.
Anticipating the high calibre of play, he set a goal of scoring at least 10 points on his opponent, which he did between the two sets he played.
“My goal was to get 10 points; I didn’t say how many games it would take me to get it, but I got my 10,” said Kulych.
Kaleb Dawe, 17, from Porter Creek Secondary School, hadn’t made any goals until he heard of his cousin’s 10-point gain.
I want to get more than 10 points, he said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, I’ve never been to a badminton competition before,” said Dawe.
Dawe played David Harrison from Manitoba in round two of the men’s singles and lost 5 to 21 and 9 to 21.
He also played mens-doubles with teammate Richard Fulop, and they lost 6 to 21 and 8 to 21 in round one of the tournament.
Despite the accumulated losses, Muller wasn’t displeased with his team.
“We’re here and we’re prepared to compete with the best in Canada in badminton, and what we’ve been working towards is to build a team that has the confidence in themselves and their abilities and have the ability to go out and play as hard as they can every single point that they’re out on the court,” he said.
“We’re excited and we’re going to cope with the pressure by playing as hard as we can, there are going to be some distractions, there are going to be some butterflies, but you work through those and you play as hard as you can.
“This is about playing to their potential and this is about them playing at this level of competition and doing the best they can.”
In the ladies’ singles tournament, Yukon team member Ally Fraser lost 8 to 21 and 7 to 21 against Grace Box from Alberta.
Even so, she stepped off the court with the confidence of a winner.
“I feel so privileged and it doesn’t feel like I belong, but I think I stepped up my game enough that last set,” she said.
“My goal was to get five points, but I got seven against her and she was really good, so I guess I’ll have to raise my goal a little bit.”
Playing against a girl with a much harder smash than her own, Fraser was able to sustain one rally quite a while.
“We kept one rally going for a really long time and I think I drove her to the side and she hit it out, so I’m pretty proud of that,” said Fraser.
Muller was just as proud.
“I think she was a little bit nervous as well, but she made adjustments between the first and second games and she played much better badminton,” he said.
“I’m impressed by her ability to dig deep and work hard, so I expect more of that from her.”
Fraser went on to play mixed doubles with Fulop against a team from Nunavut where they lost, but not by much.
The final scores were 13 to 21 and 18 to 21.
These visiting players know badminton, said Muller.
“The calibre of play here is national quality with future Olympians here and people that did very well in the Open Canadian Championships this year,” he said.
“There are teams here that are top five in the country, so there’s some incredible players.
“So that’s good — it’s good to shake us up a little bit because if you don’t play in many tournaments you don’t realize the level of players out there.
“It opens some eyes.”
The Yukon badminton team will play in the team tournament today. There, it will be pooled with teams that are closer to its ability.
Muller said the team event is why he came to the Games.
He expects to be competitive with some of the smaller provinces and the other territories.