UBC Olympian relies on strategy and cat-like reflexes
University of British Columbia student Toby Ng is approaching the 2012 London Summer Olympics like it is the biggest exam of his life.
“When I study really hard for a test, I just want to write it and prove myself,” says the 27-year-old Team Canada badminton player. “That is what I’m like with these Olympics. I have worked so hard to prepare that I am just really eager to compete.”
The London Games will conclude a grueling qualifying period that saw Ng play more than 100 matches in 19 countries over 24 weeks. But with recent titles at the Canadian Nationals and the Pan Am Games, the third-year kinesiology student is peaking at the right time, jumping to as high as 22nd in world rankings in the last year.
To prepare for London—and the U.S. and Canadian Opens that precede it—Ng travelled to South Korea to train with two-time Olympic medalist Kim Dong Moon, who has served as Ng’s mentor since 2007. “Kim is a badminton legend,” says Ng. “Getting to learn from, live with, and spend time with him has been so important for my career, and such an honour.”
Ng—who trains twice a day, six days per week—will compete in Olympic mixed doubles with his partner Grace Gao, who is coached by another of Ng’s mentors, former Canadian Olympian Darryl Yung. When badminton competition begins on July 28, watch for Ng to use his killer “jump smash”—(like a “spike” in volleyball), hard flat “drives” and cat-like reflexes on defense.
Known as a tactician, Ng creates game plans for opponents by watching videos for their tendencies and habits. “The game is so fast and people are so skilled that strategy can really be the difference,” says Ng, who applies lessons from a UBC statistics class he took to analyze the likelihood of particular shots. “You can’t always expect to overpower everyone with smashes, you need to mix up shots, anticipate opponents, and jump on their mistakes.”
Calling his family and his girlfriend “his biggest fans,” Ng credits his parents for introducing him to badminton at age six. “There was my mom and dad, my little brother and I, and we would play doubles together,” says Ng, who entered the national system at age 15 and has competed internationally since his early 20s.
When Ng seeks inspiration for the ups and downs of sport, he looks to Canadian Paralympic boccia (like bocce) player Josh Vander Vies, who was born with no arms and no legs. “Josh is a definite role model for overcoming adversity,” say Ng, adding that he also looks to his Olympic teammates, friends and family for inspiration and support.
In his downtime, Ng stays connected to friends and family online. He posts updates, photos and videos of his matches and adventures on his blog, Facebook and YouTube. He is a fan of Eminem, old-school hip hop, and TV shows such as House M.D., Dexter, Sherlock Holmes and The Simpsons. And when his girlfriend doesn’t travel with him, they meet online to play videogames together.
After the London Games, Ng hopes to qualify for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games and the 2016 Rio Olympics. As for life beyond badminton, Ng is studying for the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, and hopes to enter medicine or physiotherapy after his kinesiology degree.
“The Olympics are truly another level for me,” says Ng. “I don’t consider myself special, and I feel really fortunate to do what I love. I hope everyone realizes that the world is full of possibility. I guess I am proof of that.”