Bach and Gunawan pick up gold for US at Pan Ams
GUADALAJARA, Mexico—Howard Bach already has a plan for adding an Olympic gold medal to his Pan American Games success in badminton.
Choose the right partner.
In Guadalajara, Bach teamed with Tony Gunawan, who received his U.S. passport only a month ago, to win the badminton doubles title Wednesday. Gunawan, by the way, won Olympic gold in doubles for Indonesia in 2000.
"One thing I always tell people," Bach said. "If you want to be gold medalist, you partner one. To have someone like Tony, he is a big brother on the court. He puts things in perspective.
"He's a leader. When I'm on the court, I'm a follower. He sets up and I execute."
Bach and Gunawan's gold medal was one of eight won by the United States on Wednesday at the Pan American Games. Americans also won three more in the swimming pool, two additional rowing golds, another in shooting and a second in dressage.
In the medals table, the U.S. leads with 32 gold and 82 overall. Brazil remains in second place with 12 gold and 36 overall.
The badminton gold in men's doubles was going to the United States no matter what Bach and Gunawan did. In the final, they beat American teammates Halim Haryanto Ho and Pongnairat Sattawat 21-10, 21-14.
The women had a chance to add another, but American sisters Iris Wang and Rena Wang lost to Canadians Alex Bruce and Michelle Li 21-15, 21-15 in the final and had to settle for silver.
Badminton is dominated by Asians, and the Olympic finals in Beijing three years ago involved only four countries: China, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea. So it's no surprise to see Asian names on many teams at the Pan Am Games, and see many Asian faces packing the stands.
"Badminton is not popular in the U.S. because I think the mentality of badminton has to change," said Bach, who was born in Vietnam to Chinese parents but moved to the United States when he was 3. "People are still thinking of it as a cookout, backyard Miller Lite kind of deal. What the sports needs is a (Roger) Federer kind of player so we can compete against mainstream sports. But it's tough."
The 32-year-old Bach won gold at the Pan Am Games in 2003 and picked up silver in 1999 and 2007 -- all in doubles.
Bach and the 36-year-old Gunawan are hopeful of advancing to next year's London Olympics. Qualification is based on rankings, and the pair is now in the top 16.
"We are shooting for a medal in London," Gunawan said. "Any medal would be good for us to help build badminton in the U.S. In China they do badminton like a job. They train six or eight hours a days. So basically we need more training."
The Canadian women, and the losing American pair, are also hoping to reach London. They are probably longer shots, but still in contention.
Bruce said she was reminded by a friend that she was the only non-Asian face on the medal podium.
"Honestly, I didn't even notice until she mentioned it," Bruce said.
Bruce and Li were simply too big and overpowering for the smaller Wang sisters. Li, who was born in Hong Kong, will also play in the singles final on Thursday against Canadian teammate Joycelyn Ko.
"We are not fast starters," 20-year-old Rena Wang said, standing near her 17-year-old sister. "We've been behind in this tournament but we always rally back.
"Today we ran into an opponent who played really well and, once behind, we couldn't find our way back."
The swimming rivalry against Brazil again went in favor of the Americans as the U.S. won three of the five medals while Brazil managed only one.
"We have had a really good team energy in Team USA in the past week," said Kimberly Vandenberg, who won the women's 200-meter butterfly. "We have a lot of experience and also a lot of rookies. We've come together as a team and we all learned from each other."
Amanda Kendall started the night by winning the 100 freestyle, with American teammate Erika Erndl in second. Vandenberg soon added another gold in the 200 butterfly, and the 800 relay team of Conor Dwyer, Scot Robison, Charlie Houchin and Matt Patton completed the action with the third title of the evening -- ahead of second-place Brazil.
"I put my head down and hoped to touch the wall first," Kendall said. "When I saw that Erica was beside me I was beyond excited. It was awesome."
The only blemish for the American women came from Chilean swimmer Kristel Kobrich, who broke the U.S. hold on the top of the podium by winning the 800 freestyle. The women from the U.S. have won the other 11 races at this year's games.
Kobrich's win was also only the second gold medal in the pool won by a country other than the United States or Brazil.
In the men's 200 individual medley, Thiago Pereira of Brazil won his fourth gold of the competition. Dwyer earned silver.
In rowing, Jennifer Goldsack rallied over the last half of the race to win the women's singles sculls, and the men's eights then claimed the final gold of the three-day competition. Derek Johnson, Jason Read, Robert Otto, Joseph Spencer, Stephen Kasprzyk, Blaise Didier, Matthew Wheeler, Michael Gennaro and cox Marcus McElhenney were on the winning team.
For the first time, the United States swept the medals in equestrian's individual dressage competition. Steffen Peters won his second gold of the games, while Heather Blitz took silver and Marisa Festerling bronze.
The United States also added three more medals in shooting. Michael McPhail won the gold medal in the men's 50-meter rifle prone, and Jason Parker earned bronze.
Sandra Uptagrafft then won silver in the women's 25-meter pistol.
Americans teammates Christina McHale and Irina Falconi are guaranteed of at least one medal after reaching the semifinals in women's tennis. They will be joined by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico and Florencia Molinero of Argentina.