In Part 2 of his interview with BWF, Brian Yang, Canada’s top men’s singles qualifier in the Race to Tokyo, talks about his training during the lockdown months, keeping his motivation high, and plans to improve his game.
Last year this time most of the world was in lockdown. How did you prepare during those months, with the possibility of qualifying for Tokyo 2020 on your mind?
Last year, once COVID got serious and tournaments got cancelled, I was stuck at home, because our country was in lockdown. I had to whatever I could, like workouts and maintaining fitness. After a couple of months, June or something, our clubs reopened, but we had to follow protocols. During that time I was just grinding, training really hard. I had no choice but hope tournaments would start again soon and that I could qualify. Once they announced the Denmark and German Opens, I signed up, to see how much I’d improved. Once Olympic qualification restarted in March, I was just fully committed, fully focussed on doing as well as possible.
You played your first World Tour Super 1000 event at the All England this year. How significant was it for you to play your first All England?
I was pretty excited at first, because it’s one of the biggest tournaments on the circuit. I actually played Lee Zii Jia which was also a good experience. But I also think that I didn’t feel the hype and pressure of what a Super 1000 should have, because there were no spectators. So it didn’t feel like it was really an All England experience, if you know what I mean.
Lee Zii Jia went on to win the tournament. Your lessons from your match with him?
When I played him I felt overpowered, under pressure, I felt I couldn’t do anything at all. He was just so much better, like he basically made it so that I couldn’t perform. I was just playing into his style the whole time. It felt bad to lose that way, but made me understand how these top players are able to be so good.
How have you managed your training since then, considering the lockdown?
My coach is Mario Santoso and I train at Mandarin Badminton. The Canadians (team) are all training at separate clubs. Right now we’re kind of in lockdown again, the clubs aren’t open, but since we qualified for the Olympics, Badminton Canada has got us an exemption, which is nice.
You have travelled to a few tournaments since the start of the pandemic. How stressful is it to compete with all the restrictions in place, particularly while travelling?
It’s a bit more, especially because we have to get tested all the time. Also, a lot of paperwork. It’s a lot of extra work, if you miss one of those, you might miss the tournament. You have to be a lot more careful.
Every time I come back to Canada, I have to stay home for two weeks. All I can do is work out at my basement, but it’s not the same as training on court. So every time I get back on court, I feel rusty and not in good form as I used to be.
After the All England, I went to Poland (Polish Open), and then home, and then Peru (Peru International) and Guatemala (Pan Am Championships). I actually had only one week on-court training before Peru because of the quarantine.
Has motivation been an issue because of the inconsistency in travelling and competing?
Maybe at the beginning when tournaments got cancelled, everything was unclear and it was the start of COVID and it seemed like we had to deal with this for a long time. But once I got into training and grinding every day, I got used to it and my only goal was to make the Olympics, so I kept that in mind all the time. After that I was able to stay motivated all the time.
What has qualifying to Tokyo 2020 meant for your family?
Everyone’s so proud of me, and I feel really good. Once I got home from the Pan Am and I saw my parents, we were all so happy. Definitely this year and the past year, me and my family are going to remember for a long time.
You have come a long way, but what do you need to do now, to get into the top league?
The thing I’m missing the most is high-level sparring. I have good training partners, they’re good to do two against one or three against one, but when it comes to one versus one sparring, there’s not that many people in Canada who can do that. So after Tokyo I need to start training in Europe and Asia a lot more to experience different kinds of training and to get that same level of sparring.
Do you have any hobbies to take your mind off badminton?
I just browse my laptop, watch YouTube, play some games, but I really don’t do any extra-curriculars. I’m just focussed on badminton.