Did you know that up until the 1950s/beginning of the 1960s, Asian players didn’t win many international tournaments? Players from two other continents dominated badminton.
That’s right. For a period of around five decades, players from Europe and North America dominated the sport of badminton. Countries such as England, the USA, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, and Denmark produced the most successful players.
North American badminton had its golden era primarily in the 1950s and 1960s. An era that has yet to be repeated. We hope it will.
From around the 1960s, badminton players from Asia began their domination. On the men’s side, all Thomas Cup competitions except one have been won by Asian countries since its inception. The inception was in 1949. That’s when Malaya (now Malaysia) famously squashed favorites Denmark by 8-1.
On the ladies’ side, Japan won the Uber Cup in 1966. Since then all Uber Cup winners have been from Asia.
In Europe, of course, England was the early frontrunner.
The English invented the modern game of badminton, they wrote the rulebook and, thankfully, were very keen on introducing the game to the rest of Europe and North America.
Therefore it is no surprise that players from England dominated all the major open tournaments. Especially the biggest and most established of them all, which was the All-England Open Championships.
From the first All-England tournament in 1899 up to the second world war, native English speakers won just about all titles. It wasn’t until 1938/1939 that players from Denmark broke the trend. At the first open All-England tournament in 1939, Denmark’s Tage Madsen won the men’s singles title and Dalsgaard/Olsen won the women’s doubles title. That year England only won one category. The rest were won by players from Ireland and Canada.
The All-England Championships held in 1947 and 1948 were completely dominated by players born in Denmark. Danish players won the title in all 5 categories (although to be fair, Danish-born men’s singles winner Conny Jepsen represented Sweden in 1947).
This definitively marked the end of British dominance in badminton.
In 1949 Betty Uber and Queenie Allan did, however, win a title for England. The other four categories were won by “foreigners”.
The USA won the men’s singles and mixed doubles titles. Denmark took care of the women’s singles title. The Malaysian men’s doubles pair with Hock/Khoon won the first All-England title for Asia ever. The Malaysian pair paved the way for many more Asian winners to come. Get the Badmintonspeak.com newsletter to learn more about badminton development in Asia.
Oh, no! The Vikings from Denmark are causing a hullabaloo
Although England and other countries had a headstart of some 20-35 years, players from Denmark would go on to become a constant on podiums wherever badminton was played. It is the only European country to consistently have one or more players at the top of the world rankings since the early days of badminton.
The game of badminton is known to have been played at some estates in Denmark in 1917. But badminton at the club level wasn’t introduced until 1925. The first club to create a structure around badminton in Denmark was Skovshoved Badminton (SIF). It happened, as these things often do, by chance.
As a result of the tireless effort of a few hard-core badminton enthusiasts from Skovshoved Badminton Club, the good game quickly caught on in Denmark. New clubs were formed and modern badminton courts were built. Many purpose-built facilities were erected in the following years.
In 1936 Gentofte Badminton Klub (est. 1931) opened what was then considered to be the largest badminton center in Europe. In its prime, the club had over 1.500 members. At one point in time, an estimated 8-10% of the population was a member of either Skovshoved, Charlottenlund (est. 1936), or Gentofte badminton clubs. All three clubs are located in the affluent Gentofte Municipality on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
Anchored by the significant enthusiasm the sport enjoyed in Denmark, Danish players quickly established Denmark as one of the leading badminton nations in Europe, if not the world. What’s more, many of the badminton clubs established in the pioneer days of badminton in Denmark, still exist as thriving badminton clubs today.
The North Americans entered the badminton arena
Two things happened in 1949. Dave Freeman of the United States won the All-England final in 1949. And the American husband and wife team of Clinton and Patricia Stephans won the mixed doubles at All-England. These two titles marked the beginning of an impressive Open Tournament era for Americans. The era of great results from the Americans was to be short-lived, but impressive.
One American woman, Judy Devlin (married Hashman) won a total of 17 All-England titles between 1954 and 1966. She even played in the women’s doubles final with her English partner Gillian Gilks in 1971.
A genuine badminton superstar, Judy Devlin won a total of 81 national and international titles. She was also a part of the successful U.S. Uber Cup team. They won the first three Uber Cup Trophies in 1957, 1960, and 1963. Her sister Susan Devlin was also on the team.
Under her married name, Judy Hashman was the last American to win an All-England title. That happened in 1967.
Celebrity impact in the USA – badminton was trendy
During the winter of 1878, The Badminton Club of The City of New York was founded. Although it was founded “to relieve the dullness of the Lenten season”, and therefore with a strong social component to its purpose, the club is still in existence and is considered the oldest badminton club in the world.
In the 1930s, badminton became fashionable on the West Coast. Many Hollywood megastars played badminton regularly.
Shirley Temple, Jane Russel, Robert Mitchum, Jane Harlow, and Rita Hayworth enjoyed playing badminton and flaunted it when the press was around.
Now, so many years later, California still produces its fair share of badminton talents. But the public endorsements of badminton from Hollywood movie stars are far and few between.
In terms of international competitions, Americans did not make their mark until the late 1940s/early 1950s. Following a decade of impressive results from American players, players from the USA have been struggling to achieve top results since.
Canadian badminton players, on the other hand, have been a steady fixture on the BWF World Tour in recent years.
So long to one era, ni hao to a new badminton era
It is likely that players from the Asian continent already were on par even before the second world war. But traveling to play in Europe or North America was a costly and very time-consuming affair.
When the Malaya (Malaysia) team won the Thomas Cup in 1949, they traveled for 3 weeks (!) to get to the tournament in England. Perhaps this is the reason why the next 10 Thomas Cup tournaments all took place in Asia. And all of them were won by Asian teams.
The Chinese entered the badminton arena in 1982. And if there ever was a game changer in international badminton, this was it. China won the Thomas Cup the first time they entered the competition in 1982. China would go on to win many more team events, whilst players from China would dominate individual tournaments.
Nowadays, badminton is dominated by Asian players. See this article to understand just how dominating Asian badminton players are.
Subscribe to Badmintonspeak.com to learn how China became a dominating factor in badminton.