Rookies just out for a bit of fun

SOLDOTNA, Alaska Whap! “Good serve.” Whap! “A little short, but not by much.” Whap! Vanessa Carlson practised her…

SOLDOTNA, Alaska

Whap!

“Good serve.”

Whap!

“A little short, but not by much.”

Whap!

Vanessa Carlson practised her serves at the Soldotna Middle School on Sunday afternoon under the watchful eye of her coaches, who are also her parents, Randy and Janice Carlson.

Vanessa is the youngest member of the Yukon’s eight-player badminton team competing at the 2006 Arctic Winter Games in the Kenai Peninsula region of Alaska, and, like all of her teammates, this is her first big competition.

Like any sport in the Yukon, badminton’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years. But the coaches hope this common backyard pastime will continue to grow in the territory.

Athletes are using these Games as a way to gain experience for the 2007 Canada Winter Games and the 2008 Arctic Winter Games in the NWT, said Randy.

“We’re hoping to get a couple of points and maybe take a game or two,” added Janice.

“When we were talking about bringing a team we were thinking about participation and not gold-medal performances.”

Along with years as a coach, Randy brings his own AWG participation experience to the courts in Kenai. He competed at the 1974, ’76 and ‘78 AWG.

“The Games have changed a lot and having more of an international flavour has made it more interesting,” said Randy.

“I just try to get the players to relax and during the game, to not focus on what’s going on around them, but to really focus on the game itself.

“It’s also important for them to stay positive and polite in the event of a win or a loss and I’m sure there will be a bit of both here this week.”

As for Vanessa, who lives and trains in Watson Lake, she’s been smashing birdies competitively for only two years but has “played in the backyard for a long time.”

The number of competitive badminton players in the territory has been dwindling for the past couple of years, said Janice. And the re-building phase has been a bit of an uphill battle.

Luckily, there are players like 13-year-old Richard Fulop who are keen on pursuing the sport well after these Games are done.

“I started playing because I wasn’t really finding any sports that suited me and when we tried it in gym class I noticed that I was much better than average so I started going to the club and here I am,” he said.

The sport is much more precise and physically demanding than one might think, he added. “If you want to be good, you have to put a lot of time and effort into it.

“I would say it’s 55 per cent mental.”

To prepare for a competition, Fulop will try and size up his opponent by watching them play other competitors. He also practises visualizing his shots and where on the court he wants to place the birdie.

Fulop said his goal for the Games is to “not lose too badly” and get inspired for the 2008 Arctic Winter Games.

Last month, the entire Yukon team got some motivation when the national championships were help in Whitehorse at the new Canada Games Centre.

“To see the intensity of those players was good for us,” said Janice.

“I was able to meet a couple of national team players and it was cool to watch them because they’re so good,” added Vanessa.

“I watched where they were positioned on the court and what they were doing and hopefully that will help me here.”

Badminton competition begins today.

Along with Vanessa and Fulop, Allysa Fraser, Kristina Welsh, Jean-Paul Berrel, Wesley Jakesta, Katie McInroy and Graedan Ferguson make up Team Yukon’s badminton team.