Mathew Fogarty
Courtesy Mathew Fogarty

Why a 62-year-old played at the world badminton championships

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Mathew Fogarty said badminton’s European elite made fun of him for playing professionally at age 59. That was three years ago. Fogarty still competes at the sport’s highest level, taking part in the world championships that began Monday in Basel, Switzerland.

Fogarty, who turns 63 on Oct. 30, is older than any U.S. Olympian in any sport since the St. Louis 1904 Games, according to the OlyMADMen.

“I play because I can, and I’m a doctor, and I think sports is a really important part of people’s health and fitness,” said Fogarty, who has played competitively since age 7, whose full-time job is a psychoanalyst and who is based in the Los Angeles area. “I’ll stop badminton when I can no longer qualify. There’s still opportunity, and I love the sport. I’m going to continue to do the best I can.”

He lost in the first round of mixed doubles at worlds on Monday. Fogarty and partner Isabel Zhong, a 27-year-old with an IMBD profile, saw their world championships end in 23 minutes, a 21-9, 21-10 loss to a Ukrainian pair.

That was more competitive than Fogarty’s last two worlds appearances — a 21-6, 21-4 loss with Zhong in 2018 and a 21-2, 21-4 loss with another partner in 2017. Fogarty’s only international match wins in the last two years came via walkover or the one time his singles opponent retired after three points, according to his World Badminton Federation profile. He won an international tournament as recently as 2011 and said his career-high mixed doubles world ranking was 32.

He and Zhong paired because they were part of the same Manhattan Beach Badminton Club, and she wanted to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Games, Fogarty said. Zhong did not respond to an interview request.

“I told her I didn’t know if we could do it, but we could try,” Fogarty said. “It’s extremely remote [chances] … slim to nil.”

The top mixed doubles team from the North and South American region is in line to qualify for the Olympics. The leaders in qualifying so far are Canadians ranked 19th in the world. Fogarty and Zhong, though they are the only U.S. mixed doubles team at worlds, are 67th in the world in Olympic qualifying and third among Americans.

The U.S. has never earned an Olympic medal in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Mixed doubles was added starting at Atlanta 1996, but the U.S. has put just one mixed team into an Olympics, getting swept out of pool play in Rio.

Fogarty, who has never played at the Olympics, is able to play at worlds for a few reasons: he can fund his way to international events to accumulate ranking points; the U.S. is historically weak and has a lack of players with professional ambitions; mixed doubles is the least common of the Olympic disciplines.

“Matt takes it seriously,” said Dean Schoppe, a fellow 62-year-old who has known and played with Fogarty for nearly a half-century. Schoppe recently retired from pro badminton himself. “Matt still approaches the matches with the actual idea of winning,”

Schoppe called Fogarty the best American junior player of his generation in the late 1970s.

“Most badminton players retire at about 26 or 27 with their first catastrophic injury, which is usually a torn Achilles,” he said. “There are people who are born [to play], you see it in every sport. Magic Johnson, they have the peripheral vision. They have the balance. They have all the intangibles that other people have to try to learn and can’t.

“He has the gift. He can look at you peripherally and see that you’re leaning. … Fogarty can hold the serve and turn his shoulders and do crap that makes you fall over, and that infuriates.”

Mathew Fogarty
Badmintonphoto/BWF

Fogarty took breaks from the sport for medical school in the 1980s and ’90s. He returned in the late 1990s and kept playing deep into his 40s, 50s and now 60s in part, he said, to challenge corruption within the sport.

Fogarty had legal battles with USA Badminton. He said that past officials broke up his Olympic hopeful partnership with a teenager in men’s doubles to push others toward the 2000 Sydney Games.

“The last thing they wanted was a 42-year-old with an 18-year-old trying to make the Olympics,” Schoppe said.

USA Badminton recently had mass resignations among its board and top officials amid reports of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee threatening decertification.

USA Badminton’s new interim CEO, 1992 and 1996 Olympian Linda French, declined comment on Fogarty’s past issues with the organization because she was not formally involved at the time.

“We’re hopeful to move forward in a positive manner and wish all our athletes continued success,” French said.

Fogarty does not know how much longer he will travel the world, or even the U.S., to play competitively. A 43-year-old told him at a recent event that Fogarty was his inspiration to keep playing.

“The nature of sports is you can’t predict what it’s going to be,” Fogarty said.

Schoppe dismissed a question of whether it’s easier to play badminton at such a ripe age than other physically demanding sports.

“Imagine pulling out James Worthy and say, OK, James you are now starting for Golden State and you’re playing the Lakers tomorrow,” Schoppe said. “You cannot be old in badminton and do well in badminton. It’s nothing like baseball.

“We were the anomaly of anomalies to have success in our 40s. Nobody does.”

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Lee Chong Wei, Malaysian badminton star, retires after return bid from cancer

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Lee Chong Wei, a badminton star and Malaysia’s most decorated Olympian, ended a return bid from nose cancer and announced his retirement Thursday.

Lee, a 36-year-old, three-time Olympic silver medalist, had announced in November that he wanted to return to competition from early-stage nose cancer in 2019 and go for the Tokyo Olympics. But a more recent scan led a doctor to tell Lee that he risked recurrence if he continued to train.

“I was at loss,” was posted on Lee’s social media. “I thought, ‘How am I supposed to hang up my racket after nearly twenty years of competitive badminton? How about my Olympic dreams?'”

Lee tearfully said he was quitting in a press conference Thursday.

“With a heavy heart, I have to announce that I am retiring as health is more important,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Lee lost the last three Olympic finals to Chinese — to Lin Dan in 2008 and 2012 and Chen Long in 2016.

He also lost four straight world championships finals to Lin and Chen from 2011 to 2015. He also served an eight-month steroid ban in 2014 and 2015, stripping his 2014 World silver medal, but a panel said he did not intend to cheat.

“I feared of retiring with regrets,” Lee said on Facebook. “I was scared of not delivering that elusive Olympic gold for Malaysia. So when I was cleared of cancer, I took up my racquet and trained once again.”

Lin, who has a 28-12 record against Lee, reacted on Weibo to his long-time friend’s retirement.

“I am alone, now that there’s no one to accompany me on the court,” Lin wrote, adding a video of a song titled, “My friend, don’t cry.”

Asked if he had any regrets, Lee said: “I do regret 100 percent that I could not win a gold (at the Olympics and worlds). Now I cannot get to 2020, but I hope another Malaysian can and I will help towards that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Lee Chong Wei, Malaysian badminton star, eyes return from nose cancer

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Lee Chong Wei, a badminton silver medalist at the last three Olympics, hopes to return to competition next year and at a fifth Olympics in Tokyo after a full recovery from early-stage nose cancer.

“I love badminton. More important is my health,” Lee said in a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. “Just recover first. How doctors say I can come back to the court, when I come back, I want to come back.”

Lee, 36 and Malaysia’s most decorated Olympian, said he recently finished about two months of treatment in Taiwan and resumed light training.

Malaysia’s badminton federation first said in July that Lee was suffering from a respiratory related disorder, withdrawing from the world championships and Asian Games in July and August. It said in September that Lee was diagnosed with nose cancer.

“When I knew I had cancer, I couldn’t stop crying for nearly a week. … I have never cried so much in my life,” Lee said after 33 rounds of treatment, about five or rounds per week, according to the New Straits Times. “This was the biggest battle of my life. … After three weeks of proton therapy, I found it so hard to eat, and my wife, who had to feed me, cried every time.”

Lee lost the last three Olympic finals to Chinese — to Lin Dan in 2008 and 2012 and Chen Long in 2016. He also lost four straight world championships finals to Lin and Chen from 2011 to 2015. He also served an eight-month steroid ban in 2014 and 2015, stripping his 2014 World silver medal, but a panel said he did not intend to cheat.

“I cannot say 100 percent I can come back,” Lee said. “I must see how my body [feels]. This is my dream, to play last track for me in one and a half years from now.”

Danish and Japanese men won the last two world titles, ending a Chinese streak of 11 straight Olympic and world titles between 2006 and 2016.

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