Twins Narrowly Ahead as Race Heads for Photo Finish

As the qualification window for the Paris Olympic Games enters its last month, there is at least one race that is headed for a photo-finish. This contest will be between USA’s Annie Xu/Kerry Xu and Canada’s Catherine Choi/Josephine Wu, both in the reckoning for the Pan Am women’s doubles spot.

The Xu twins are currently ahead in the Race to Paris – but only just. Ranked No.32, they lead their fellow-Pan Am contenders by a wafer-thin margin of 172 points. The spot is likely to be decided at the YONEX Pan Am Individual Championships 2024 in Guatemala next week, where the Canadians are top-seeded and the USA pair second.

Considering how well the Xu sisters have done so far, it’s remarkable how low-profile they have been. The Xus’ journey – like all self-funded athletes, an expensive affair, with the twins having played 23 events last year and 10 so far this year – has been supported by family and friends.

The Xu twins: Annie (left) and Kerry.

“We both worked for a year in corporate accounting, so we were able to save up some funds,” said Annie. “Other than that, sponsors are hard to find in the US, and you have to have the right connections. The majority of our competitions have been funded either by our savings or our parents and friends and family pitch in. We’ve set up a GoFundMe, and we got some funds through that. For the most part, the savings was not enough, so it was our parents backing us.”

During the Olympic qualifying period, they were in the finals of four International Challenge/Series events, winning the Peru Challenge 2023, and helping USA make the final of the Badminton Pan Am M&F Cup. With 40,827 points, they are the highest-ranked Pan Am pair, ahead of Choi/Wu (No.34) and fellow-USA pairs Francesca Corbett/Allison Lee (No.38) and Paula Lynn Cao Hok/Lauren Lam (No.40).

While relatively new to the World Tour, they’ve had reasonable success this year, beating pairs like Margot Lambert/Anne Tran at Malaysia Open 2024 and Treesa Jolly/Gayatri Gopichand Pullela at Spain Masters 2024. They nearly got the better of Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota at the French Open, with three match points against the world No.8 pair before the Japanese wriggled out of their predicament.

The All England was possibly a precursor to what might unfold at the Pan Am Championships as they ran into Catherine Choi/Josephine Wu in the first round, in a clash that the Canadians desperately had to win to keep the Xu sisters within sight. Although the USA pair did lose that contest in three games, they were philosophical in defeat.

Kerry and Annie have had reasonable success this year.

“It was a lot of physical and mental struggle, with the Olympic qualification coming to a close,” said Kerry. “Just a month to go, the pressure has been really high, so learning to deal with that, and also, trying to not let that affect you when you’re playing. It’s something that we are still trying to work on. Unfortunately we didn’t get the outcome we’d hoped for … at least we gave it our best.”

“It didn’t feel like a first round, because this is typically the semis or finals of the Pan Am,” said her sister. “We came in with a bunch of nerves, because playing against your top contenders for the Olympic spot was quite nerve-wracking for us, and there’s a lot of pressure that goes behind it. Whereas in another first round I’m just looking to play my best, to try to reach the next level. But this one we went in with the mindset that we really wanted to win. Not just for our sake, but for our families and everyone who’s supported us.”

With the lead being so narrow, the sisters are trying to not get ahead of themselves. The Olympic spot will have to be hard-won.

“In January on the Asia tour we did decently; at this time we are happy with our performances,” said Kerry. “In terms of the lead, we are trying not to think too much about it, because we don’t want to put pressure on ourselves. We are happy that we currently have the Pan Am continental spot; hopefully we will keep it.”

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