Iris Wang, once a familiar face on the circuit, all but disappeared from top-tier events since representing USA at the Rio Olympics 2016. Unable to resist the lure of competing, however, Wang is making her way back – and while she’s uncertain if she can commit to badminton the way she once did, she’s unlikely to say an extended goodbye to it.
In 2016, Wang played 15 tournaments as a self-funded athlete, travelling with her personal coach Alistair Casey in her campaign to qualify to Rio. Having achieved her dream, she was a fleeting presence at a few lower-tier tournaments. She did attend the World Championships in 2017 – her only tournament through the whole year.
Her appearance at the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019 is, therefore, something of a surprise for someone who has played only one tournament this year.
Wang explained that her near-disappearance was due to her graduate studies, from which she had taken time off to qualify for Rio.
“After Rio, I was contemplating, and decided to go back to school. Because I was travelling so much, I wanted a break and focused on school. I missed competing and decided to train and play a couple of tournaments.
“I started my freshman year in 2012-2013 and then I took three years off and after Rio I did my three years until 2019. I finished school in March. My graduation ceremony is in June.”
Having once been a competitive player, Wang admits that she has been missing the circuit, but is uncertain on whether she wants to attempt qualification for Tokyo 2020.
“I missed playing, and it’s nice being back. I haven’t played a team tournament in a while. Maybe my last was 2016. Normally when I travel it’s by myself, so it’s nice that this time I’m with the team.
“I think I missed the environment, training hard, seeing growth, seeing improvement and challenging myself. I’ve signed up for a couple of tournaments. I think I’m a little late because I’m just starting now. So I’m just playing it and seeing what happens.”
Irrespective of whether she does dive into another attempt at Olympic qualification, Wang says the discipline of being a professional athlete has already translated into her non-badminton life.
“I think so. Athletes learn how to deal with failure and be resilient and how to work with a goal in mind and that translates into other parts of life, like academics.”
As for immediate goals, Wang says she’s keeping it open: “It’s hard to say. Last time when I was trying for 2016, I took three years off from school, and it was an intense process. Whereas this time it’s a lot more relaxed and not as meticulously counting points. I’ve entered some tournaments, but I need to see how it goes.”