Is this the new place you guys talking about? Badminton more than just a backyard pastime Tuesday, February 14, 2006 By RICHARD SEVEN KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE By sound alone you know that this is not barbecue badminton. Clean, crisp thwacks reverberate from the five courts at the Bellevue Badminton Club, east of Seattle. Players of various skill levels abuse the featherweight shuttlecock back and forth. Rob Hankins, a former junior champion, smashes the birdie over and over -- each the kind of rocketing smack that would send a tennis ball flying 20 feet too long. But the birdie's zoom abruptly slows just enough, and his opponents are deft enough, that nearly each one is returned and challenging in its own right. The other courts are filled with doubles matches. Some just volley. Some work on drills. Each player, each game shows a bit of the sport's grace inside the converted Factoria warehouse. Badminton is a fast sport. You don't put in the running you do in tennis, but you get a surprising amount of legwork. In a competitive match, a player can cover more than a mile in darting, start-and-stop movements. Good players must combine power with touch, grace with quickness, endurance with creativity. The striking motion is akin to throwing a baseball, but the sport is so quick -- some say it is a combination of tennis and karate -- that a player must alter his or her motion and intent at a moment's notice. Geoff Stensland, a chemical engineer, began the club, which he says is the first fulltime badminton court in the Northwest. He had been able to play serious indoor badminton only when he could find a spare court off to the side of tennis courts. Still, he was ranked 12th in his classification as a 7-year-old. He was too small to compete in sports like football and basketball, but was blessed with quick reflexes, so he stayed with it. As a teenager, after finally finding a permanent place to play, he became four-time junior singles champion. He later played at Arizona State University on one of the first collegiate badminton scholarships. Stensland, 46, returned to Seattle in 1989 and soon began looking to start a club of his own. After several forays, he finally found a site and investors to make the club happen. He already wishes he had more courts. More than 125 participants joined a tournament hastily arranged just two days after the building opened. Still, Stensland says above the thwacking staccato, he's happy with what he's got. "The place probably won't ever make a profit, but it will help promote the sport and give a place for people to play consistently so they can improve. The game is simple, but complex, too." Wendy Carter, once the third-ranked female singles player in the world, says the game requires, among other traits, quickness and focus, which is why some hockey goalies play it in the off-season. One of the classic badminton drills sends a player sprinting to the net to recover a drop shot, then rush to the back line to recover a lob. Because it requires fast, twisting movements, you should take time to warm up before going all out. Badminton, especially popular and well-played in China and Indonesia, is a stealth workout in that your focus is on the game, not on how hard your body is working. The World Badminton Association, to prove its point, compared a tennis championship match featuring Boris Becker and Kevin Curren with the World Badminton Championships of the same year. The badminton players competed for half the time, yet ran twice as far and hit nearly twice as many shots, the association claims. In other words, you are sadly mistaken if you think this is just a backyard sport.