Road to Paris: Journey, Not Destination

It had been a close call for Vinson Chiu and Jennie Gai in securing their ticket to Paris 2024. The USA pair had been in a neck-and-neck race with Ty Alexander Lindeman and Josephine Wu, and finally edged ahead of the Canadians by finishing runners-up at the Pan Am Individual Championships – a razor-thin lead of just 130 points.

“It’s pretty crazy qualifying for the Olympics. It’s been my childhood dream,” says Jennie Gai. “This whole year of qualification has been a lot and it was still very uncertain who would qualify. So being able to get through it and qualify was a big thing.”

Vinson Chiu & Jennie Gai

Chiu and Gai are however treating the accomplishment with a certain degree of circumspection – preferring to look at Paris 2024 as part of the journey rather than as a destination.

“It was a long time coming, but I think my goal was never to qualify, but to do well at the Olympics,” says Chiu. “Judging from past tournaments and our training, there’s still a long way to go. So I’m happy about qualification but not satisfied.

“There was sigh of relief after we qualified, but then we went back to our usual schedule of training every day.”

The reason for this matter-of-fact way of looking at a major achievement is that they’re already thinking of Los Angeles 2028, when the Olympics will be at home. They also believe they have a long way to go if they have to give a good account of themselves against the world’s best pairs.

“My goal is to have a good performance at the Olympics,” says Chiu. “Qualifying for Paris has shifted my goal to do well at LA 2028. This one, it’s more performance-based. As long as we bring our best, I will be happy. LA 2028 is more of a results-based goal for me — hopefully I’d like to place at that Olympics.”

Still new on the upper tier of the HSBC BWF World Tour, the USA pair have had a taste of facing up to the world’s best. At the French Open they took on Feng Yan Zhe/Huang Dong Ping; at the All England the next week it was Zheng Si Wei/Huang Ya Qiong.

Vinson Chiu and Jennie Gai at the Thailand Open.

“It shows me how big the gap is and how much harder we have to train and work because there are some rallies we can keep up, but the top 5, top 10 pairs, they’re there for a reason,” says Gai. “Their anticipation, speed, control, everything is really good and on court it really shows what we’re lacking. Of course we still give our best in every match. It motivates me to work hard because I want to be as good as them.

“We’re just trying to apply what we learn in training, new strategies… for me, mixed doubles is relatively new, I was singles before so I still have some bad habits. I’m trying to correctly implement the correct positions, timing… learning from each match. Mentally too, it’s a big thing. So, step by step. I see small steps of improvement, but I see it like a ladder, there’s still some way to go.”

As part of their preparation for Paris, they trained for two weeks at Djarum Badminton Club before the Indonesia Open, and then headed to Thailand to train at the club of Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai.

“We just want to be realistic, and we want to give our best shot,” says Gai. “I’m excited that we’ve had good opportunities. Two weeks in Indonesia training with Djarum, and then with SCG. I’m excited to get high-quality level in sparring. I don’t think we’ve ever got sparring and training with such high level players.”

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