- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
What’s it like to be an Olympic athlete?
NextShark spoke with Timothy Lam, who represented the U.S. in the men’s singles badminton in Tokyo to find out.
Lam, 23, was born in Hong Kong and raised in Mountain View, California. His journey into badminton began at the early age of 6.
While Lam always dreamed of joining the Olympics, he had no concrete plans to pursue it until he won the U19 singles at the 2014 Junior Pan American Games. He was a 17-year-old student at Los Altos High School.
“I realized I had the potential to compete at the adult international level,” Lam tells NextShark. “Over the next few years, I decided to give the Olympic qualification a shot with no real certainty whether I could make it or not.”
There were obstacles along the way, but the 23-year-old was determined. “I also decided to try and qualify for the Olympics for my own personal growth and experience,” he says.
Lam kept his Olympic ambitions alive while majoring in accounting at Cal Poly Pomona. He graduated in 2018 and is now a CPA Exam candidate.
In the last few years, Lam traveled extensively and competed to raise his world ranking from 94 to 85. It became more challenging in 2020 when COVID-19 happened and restrictions were implemented, but he managed to return to competing toward the end of the year.
Lam officially made it to Team USA on July 5. He describes the qualification year as the toughest time in his Olympic journey.
“The hardest part was traveling all year alone without a team or coach to foreign countries. Trying to adjust myself to the various hardships of different setbacks and unexpected difficulties was also very mentally challenging,” Lam says, adding that he was also trying to balance school, training, competing and personal life.
Lam says the U.S. does not have a badminton team due to a lack of funding. For this reason, he has to spend his own money for training, travel and other expenditures.
“Because we don’t have a national team, we have to find our own training -- whether in a local badminton club or overseas in Asia and Europe, where badminton is more popular,” Lam shares. “I’ve trained overseas several times but the fees can be quite costly. And considering I already spent a lot of money on traveling for competitions, training overseas was often something I put aside unless necessary.”
Lam says he trained most of the time at his local badminton club. But because he had no personal coach, it was still quite challenging.
“I had to look for additional sparring with friends or local players. I also had to build up the motivation to do extra physical training,” he says.
Lam finished 15th in Tokyo. For an athlete who worked his way to the Olympics virtually all by himself, this is a record of undeniable talent, resourcefulness and resilience.
And while the first-time Olympian returns home without a medal, he is back with memorable lessons and experiences. Follow his journey at the Tokyo Games below:
Lam’s journey to Tokyo 2020 begins at the San Francisco International Airport. He was on the same flight with some fencing, volleyball and taekwondo players, as well as other non-Olympic athletes.
Lam arrived at Narita International Airport. Athletes were immediately checked for two negative COVID-19 tests (96-hour and 72-hour), as well as their OCHA (Online Check-in and Health report App) details.
Lam prepares for a COVID-19 saliva antigen test.
Athletes queued to have their PVC (Pre-Valid Cards) validated into an Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card (OIAC).
Team USA lined up to wait for their COVID-19 test results. Lam says someone on the flight tested positive, which prompted contact tracing. Some were put in quarantine due to close contact. They then waited for another two hours for their bus.
Twelve hours after landing, U.S. athletes arrived at the Olympic Village and had their first meal at the dining hall.
The dining hall consisted of two levels and different stations of food. Each station corresponded to a particular type of cuisine, such as Japanese, halal, etc.
Lam says each U.S. athlete, regardless of sport, got one Nike luggage, one Ralph Lauren luggage, one Oakley bag, several shoes and a goodie bag from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
As Olympic athletes, Lam says they get free drinks on the vending machine 24/7!
Here's a look at the main dining hall.
Goodies from the IOC include a beverage container, a Samsung phone, earbuds and $500 from Airbnb.
Lam thanked Nike and Ralph Lauren for the free Olympic gear.
The Oakley bag was also full of goodies.
Of course, Lam did not miss taking photos with the Olympic Rings!
Lam says athletes performed a daily COVID-19 saliva antigen test, which required them to spit on a syringe.
More food from the dining hall!
The competition venue was 45 minutes away from the village, so athletes had plenty of time to look around. "We get a lot of nice view on our way to training," Lam says.
Lam spotted a self-driving car in the village.
Laundry in the village, because athletes are people too.
A screen showed real-time data of the number of people in the dining hall.
Lam's opening and closing ceremony outfits!
Lam wore NormaTec compression leggings in the Team USA recovery room.
Here's a view of Lam's daily morning walk to practice.
Here we see buses for each country to the opening ceremony.
And finally, the opening ceremony (where Lam gets to meet Kevin Durant, too)!
Lam watched and supported his teammates on TV in their dorm.
Lam lost to Japan's Kento Momota (2-0) on July 25.
"All the free shoes we got."
Lam lost to South Korea's Heo Kwang-hee on July 26 (2-0). This ended his Olympic matches.
After his matches, Lam found some time to explore the village plaza. He says the area consisted of an official Tokyo 2020 merchandise store, a bank, a hair salon, a post office and a Japanese cultural center.
Here's an item sold at the merch store.
Lam shared a photo of his competition venue (Musashino Forest Sport Plaza).
Badminton players got their own personalized tube of shuttles.
Lam heads back to the U.S.!
Lam shared a photo with a security agent from the State Department, who accompanied the team throughout the week.
With Tokyo 2020 over, Lam says he plans to take a break from badminton for a while to focus on public accounting. He is currently studying for the CPA Exam to get his license.
The badminton pro also leaves a message for athletes aspiring to be in the Olympics:
"Make sure you enjoy what you do. The qualification process for the Olympics, especially for badminton, is extremely arduous and mentally challenging, so it’s really important that you have a passion for the sport and a desire to be the best at what you do in order to go through these obstacles along the way.
"Another piece of advice I would give is be willing to make sacrifices. Like with any other sport, it’s going be hard to get both sides of the coin. Most badminton players that reach the professional level have had to sacrifice some parts of their life in order to reach their dreams in badminton, whether it’s their social life or academic life."
Images via Timothy Lam for NextShark
Enjoy this content? Read more from NextShark!