USA Women’s Doubles pair Allison Lee and Francesca Corbett took home silver medals after making it to the finals of the 2023 Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Junior Championships.
It was a historic moment: they are the first American players to make it to the podium at the BWF World Junior Championships, where at least 40 countries were present. They defeated Japan’s Mei Sudo and Nao Yamakita at the semifinals, earning them a spot in the finals on Oct. 8.
“It is a huge honor to be able to represent the U.S. in a sport where it is dominated by Asian and European countries,” Lee tells NextShark. “I feel very proud of the hard work we have put in for over half of our lives. We could not have done it without the tremendous amount of support around us.”
Despite facing a setback due to food poisoning just a week before the tournament, Lee overcame it during the team event to regain her rhythm. In preparation for the tournament, the 18-year-old badminton players noted learning from their losses on the world tour, where they gained on-court and off-court experiences while competing with other top players.
“After playing the world tour for several months, we had a lot of tough losses,” Corbett shares. “However, it was important for us to learn from our prior play and focus on the goal at hand. Personally, I did a lot of weight and physical training and did two on court sessions per day as well.”
Although the pair won their first set at the finals against China’s Maya Taguchi and Aya Tamaki, they lost the final two sets. However, Lee and Corbett are grateful for the unforgettable experiences they had at the tournament, especially when they exceeded expectations during the semifinal match and reached the finals after overcoming a challenging start.
“Seeing my family, friends and supporters after every match and being able to celebrate each win with them — sometimes with tears — that winning feeling is also something you can’t replicate. It is indescribable,” Lee says.
Lee, who is of Australian, Chinese and Vietnamese descent, graduated from Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California. She is currently taking a gap year before attending Santa Clara University. “I decided to pursue badminton professionally after realizing how much I enjoyed it and the potential I had as a junior. In the past and currently, I want to push myself to become the best in the world,” she shares.
Lee’s father, who had participated in and coached for the Olympics, inspired her to push herself further in the sport. She believes that pursuing badminton as an Asian American has allowed her to connect with her cultural roots.
Corbett, who is of Chinese and European descent, graduated from Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, California, and hopes to pursue a sports medicine career in college. She decided to pursue badminton professionally at a young age and was inspired by her parents, who always supported her, even when she doubted herself. But as an Asian American badminton player, she faces prejudice, she says.
“Badminton is a very ‘Asian’ sport, at least in the USA. A majority of the badminton community consists of Asian Americans. Usually whenever we have a successful match or tournament, a lot of people make the assumption that American players are imported from Asian countries, and they’re not really ‘American.’ This makes me sad because I feel that it takes away from my win, as it feels like they are discrediting me. I think it’s also kind of funny that they assume I am from Asia, especially since my name does not sound Asian at all,” Corbett shares.
Lee adds that the challenges faced by badminton athletes in the U.S. include limited infrastructure, visibility, funding and scholarships. Corbett hopes that their historical win will “boost its importance and provide the kind of visibility that badminton deserves as a competitive sport.”
The pair plans to continue competing on the world tour and participating in major tournaments in various countries, including Denmark, France, Germany, South Korea, Japan and China. As they strive to rank among the top badminton players in the world, they are encouraging more Americans to pick up the sport.
When asked for advice for aspiring athletes — especially within the Asian American community — they emphasize the importance of self-belief and surrounding oneself with mentors, advisors and supporters who can guide one’s journey.
“It is extremely important to always keep faith in yourself. Everyone in the world can be against you or ignore you, but as long as you believe in yourself and never give up, success will always follow,” Corbett says.