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Calgary badminton star continues his Olympic push at home tournament

A local Olympic hopeful’s bid goes through Calgary next week.

Starting July 4, some of the best badminton players in the world will begin the fight to claim the Yonex Canada Open badminton championship in Calgary.

The Yonex Canada Open has seen a jolt in prestige and competitiveness since it moved from Richmond, British Columbia to Calgary, Alberta, going from a Super 100 (which is a lower-level tournament) to a Super 500 tournament.

This jump not only attracts some of the best players in the world but also sees the total prize money jump over $300,000. Tournament director of the Canada Open Jeff Bell said he’s extremely happy about how Calgary has been able to stand out on the badminton world tour.

“We’re the highest-ranked international tournament in the Pan American zone and most definitely highest within the North American zone,” Bell said.

“Us moving up to the Super 500, we have the reigning Olympic gold medalist, current world champion in men’s singles. We’ve got the number one player in the world in women’s singles from Japan. Number two men’s doubles from Malaysia, probably number five from Indonesia. So we’ve got a completely world-class, probably 10 or 15 athletes in the top 10 across the five events.”

In the mix of these world-class athletes is Calgary’s own Kevin Lee. Lee, 24, is currently in the 41st-ranked doubles pair, which puts him right on the edge of being able to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Nearly life-long badminton play in Calgary

Ahead of the Canada Open, Lee reminisced about how Calgary helped shaped his badminton career, and how it has put him right on the doorstep of becoming an Olympian.

“I’ve been pretty much playing badminton in Calgary my whole life. I was born in Winnipeg, but I moved to Calgary when I was about six months old, so I’ve been training and grew up in Calgary, and I actually trained at the Glencoe Club, which is a local private club in downtown Calgary,” Lee said.

“I started realizing I was pretty decent at badminton when I was around, you know, 10 or 12 years old.”

Lee said initially he was ranked top in Alberta in his age category. When he started going outside of Alberta in his later teens, he ended up at the top for his age at 14, 16, and 19.

Lee ended up going to the University of Calgary for business, which kept him quite busy and effectively put his badminton career on the back burner. The plan was to graduate and get a career job in his field but upon finishing school Lee’s childhood passion brought him back to the sport.

“I think after graduating, I sort of thought maybe you know what, this has been my passion since I was a child, so I thought I would give it a shot, you know, just playing a few tournaments, maybe take a year off just to see where it goes,” Lee said.

“The year right after COVID about 2020, 2021-ish I found that I was finding some success internationally, so I decided I would try and make a run for the Olympics.”

Lee is now on the verge of making that Olympic dream possible in the doubles category.

“To make the Olympics we really just have to be the highest-ranked team in the Pan Am region,” Lee said.

“Pretty much right now we’re 41st in the world, whereas the top Pan Am team is 39, so we’re only two spots behind them, we pretty much just need to make up that little bit of ground.”

Lee says he couldn’t picture a better place than Calgary to continue his Olympic bid.

“The tournament is actually quite special,” Lee said.

“It’s a local tournament, but it’s one of the biggest in the world, and definitely the biggest in Canada. It’s quite a high-level tournament and there are many players from Asia and Europe coming from overseas to compete at this tournament. So it’s a pretty big deal.”

The tournament will take place at the WinSport Arena from July 4-9. You can find more details on the tournament here.