It's hard to be No. 1, but the Douglas College badminton program has made it look rather easy.
In the past two decades, Douglas athletes have garnered 56 total medals - more than half the medals that were up for grabs at the Canadian Colleges' Athletic Association nationals. Of that number, 34 of them were of the gold variety.
"I feel good because we started this whole thing at the Canadian college level," said current Douglas College head coach Al Mawani, who returned to the program eight years ago with even bigger goals.
Since then, Douglas has been a juggernaut, winning 30 total medals, including an impressive 22 gold.
The continuity was seemless for Mawani, who left the program in the capable hands of student products Sian Deng and Peter Chen.
But the real credit goes to former director of athletics Lou Rene Legge, says Mawani.
"She knew my dream. I credit her," said Mawani. "That's when it took off."
That dream included the college partnering in a badminton academy run by Mawani that is growing the game at the grass roots level, both recreationally and in the competitive sphere.
In 2007, Mawani championed a dream season, leading the Douglas Royals to the national championships, where they won all five singles and doubles finals as the B.C. contingent. Later that same year, Douglas birders helped the B.C. badminton team win at the Canada Games for the first-ever time.
"What turned our programs around was getting a person like Alvin (Lau). He grew up in the B.C. programs. He was the guy I chose, and he didn't let us down," said Mawani of the former Douglas College five-time Canadian colleges' doubles champion from 2006 to 2010.
Since then, Chinese national students and Burnaby residents, Melody Liang, a former five-time college women's doubles gold medalist, and current defending four-time women's singles champion and player of the year RuiLin Huang, have continued to keep Douglas on top.
With Lau and many other Douglas products passing on their skills to the next generation of badminton stars, Mawani has most of the pieces in place both as a collegiate coach and as founding director of the Shuttlesport Academy.
With recent visits from the French and Swiss nation-al teams to the academy, Mawani understands the word is out when it comes to where the best badminton training facility is in the Lower Mainland.
"The challenge is where do we go from here? There is a need for more court time," said Mawani.
With elite training programs running five days a week and growing recreational interest, space has become an issue.
Young up-and-comers and current provincial champions, 16-year-old twins Bryan and Allan Ng, and Alex Lim, 17, have international futures ahead of them if they continue to get the resources they need to improve, said Mawani.
"Our priority for Canadian badminton is to keep raising the profile of our younger players; that's important," he said.
"Academy-wise, we've achieved the goals we first set out, and college-wise, we've more than achieved. Our next goal is to bring the under-12 kids to follow the u-16s. I want to have that flow coming through."
But to do that, it means a different level of support, added Mawani, citing private partnership is the next step in the process.
"We have to create more of the partnerships we've had with Shanghai and Switzerland to create an environment where we can provide the funding. It has to come from a private company. I don't see it coming from anywhere else," Mawani said. "We'll work hard on doing that."
© Copyright 2013