3-Minute Interview: Ben Lee

The San Jose resident is a superstar in the badminton world — a nine-time U.S. champion and member of the 1992 Olympic team. Lee and three other badminton aficionados have opened the Bay Badminton Club in Burlingame, a gym devoted to the sport with 16 courts, locker rooms, a children’s play area and a pro shop. The club’s grand opening was Saturday.

Can you describe badminton for people who don’t know what it is? Badminton is a racket sport. It’s one of the fastest racket sports in the world. The shuttlecock, or birdie, can travel up to 200 mph — faster than a tennis ball.

What is the draw in playing badminton? I think the draw is the activity itself. You don’t have to be 6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds to play, like football or basketball players. You need a combination of power, fitness, endurance, agility — all wrapped in one.

Why did you decide to open a badminton gym? There’s definitely a need for it. When I started playing many years ago there just weren’t any dedicated badminton facilities — we had to share courts with basketball and volleyball teams.

What were the Olympics like? It was an awesome experience. That was the year the Dream Team was there, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and it was just a great experience to be there with all of them. Once, I was downstairs in the lobby area where they had a bunch of big-screen TVs displaying all the sports going on and Michael Chang (the U.S. tennis Olympian) sat down. It was just awesome to be watching TV with Michael Chang.

Have you taught your daughter how to play? Yeah, a little bit. But she’s only 3, so I basically just let her do what she’s interested in.

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