Alumnus ‘serves’ in Tokyo Olympics as part of men’s national badminton team

By Isabella Cano and Ethereal Violet Reyes, Sept. 28, 2021

Almost three years after graduating from CPP, alumnus Timothy Lam (’18, bachelor’s in accounting) earned the opportunity to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of the U.S. national team. 

On July 25, Lam took to the Tokyo courts as one of only four American athletes to participate in the badminton events this year. Ranking 15 overall in the men’s badminton singles events, he recalls participating in the Olympics as an unforgettable experience. 

“Everything was just extremely professional from the way the organizing committee welcomed all the athletes around the world to just walking out in the opening ceremony,” Lam said. “Another thing I also really admired was stepping on the badminton court for the first time and seeing the Tokyo 2020 emblem on the court. It made me realize the magnitude of the level I was competing at.” 

Alumnus Timothy Lam enjoying the view from the badminton courts at the 2020 Olympic games. (Courtesy of Timothy Lam)

Training an average of three hours a day for six days a week while studying for his bachelor’s degree, Lam achieved his goal of competing at the international level during his first year at CPP. He did so for five years before qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics on July 5. 

“I like experiencing new cultures, meeting new friends, visiting new countries that I would not visit otherwise. Some of my tournaments took me to Africa so that was a unique experience. I have also been to some countries in the Middle East, so I feel like without badminton I would never have visited those countries,” Lam said. 

With the support of his family, Lam first practiced the craft at the age of six and continued refining his skills at several badminton clubs in the Bay Area from elementary through high school. 

“I had to have a lot of discipline for myself and a lot of mental toughness especially  when things didn’t go my way. Ever since I was a little kid, up until now, it’s basically been like that, so badminton definitely helped me become who I am today,” Lam added. 

Following in the footsteps of his older brother, alumnus Zenas Lam (’15, bachelor’s in architecture), he committed to CPP to engage in a more kinesthetic approach to learning and still practice his swings at Global Badminton Academy in Pomona, California, located just a few miles from the campus. There, Lam trained with former world champion and Olympic gold medalist, Tony Gunawan, for three years. 

Unbeknownst to Lam at the time, the move would propel his pursuit of playing badminton at the highest level.

Lam and three fellow athletes represent the U.S. badminton team at the 2020 Olympics. (Courtesy of Timothy Lam)

Despite Lam’s early start in the sport, a professional career as a badminton player was never a viable reality in his mind until winning the Pan American Junior Badminton Championship in 2014. 

“After I won that title, I felt that I had the potential to compete at the adult level and so at that moment I wanted to see how far I could go,” said Lam. 

However, working toward his Olympic dreams while playing internationally proved to be a strenuous but rewarding journey, according to Lam. 

“It was a very good time for me to see the world and experience new cultures, but it was also a lonely time because I was travelling alone,” Lam said. “I don’t have a personal coach or team that travels with me and so most of the time I would be going into these foreign countries that I know nothing about. I was managing everything by myself like flights, hotels and transportation and on top of that, I also had the competition to worry about.” 

Although athletes are often awarded a sum of money for placing in Olympic events, a lack of funding is a common occurrence for many athletes, specifically in the sport of badminton. 

According to Lam, the sport’s decreased popularity in the states compared to other countries has led to a lack of sponsorships for many U.S. badminton athletes, obligating them to rely on personal or crowdsourced funds to compete. 

While Lam acknowledges that badminton will always hold a special place in his life, the costly expenses and intense dedication needed to play at the Olympic level has shifted his focus toward his academic success as opposed to his athletic success going forward. He plans to devote his time to earning his California Board of Accountancy license in the near future. 

“In order for badminton to become more recognized, it has to be a medal potential sport, so it needs to have the potential to win a medal at the Olympics or for someone to win a world championship. I feel like it’s impossible to reach that without the right resources,” said Lam. “It’s kind of funny. Because we don’t have support, we aren’t able to reach that medal potential and because we don’t have medal potential, we don’t have resources so it keeps going around and around.” 

Featured image courtesy of Timothy Lam.

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