Interview with a Badminton Slayer
1. When did you realize you wanted to compete at the highest level?

When I was about 14, I competed in one of my first international tournaments playing doubles with my sister in Atwater Canada. As American players, we’re always looked at as the underdogs, especially when playing against Asian players. Not surprisingly, we ended up in the same bracket as the number one seed from Japan. Great. At that point, we didn’t have any expectations of winning (you kind of just try your best to get as many points as you can). But surprisingly, rally after rally, we found ourselves hanging with the number one seed! I thought, “Are they not playing well or are we pretty good?” Though we eventually lost, that match gave me the motivation to train harder, knowing that I wasn’t far from reaching their level. I was balancing school and training at the time, so I knew that if I could devote more time to training like those top level players, I could make it too.

2. What’s one challenge you have as a top level badminton athlete?

Badminton isn’t really a team sport in the truest sense of the word. Everyone is against each other, and you might even face your teammate in the semi-finals or finals of a tournament. So it’s a little complicated to maintain friendships with players from other countries. Sure, you see each other all the time at different tournaments and like to hang out, but you just can’t be too close with your competition because it might affect the way you play against them.

3. What was the biggest disappointment in your badminton career so far?

Last year, I competed in the Pan American Games, which is one of the biggest tournaments for us. My goal was to make it to the finals to play against Michelle Li from Canada and get the title “#1 in Pan Ams”. I think I put too much pressure on myself because I was terribly nervous for the entire tournament and ended up losing in the semi-finals. My biggest disappointment was that I wasn’t able to perform even 50% of what I had to offer. It was my hardest loss and took me a while to get over, but it showed me that I need to take a different approach mentally when I compete.

4. What’s after Rio?

I will be returning to UCLA to finish my undergraduate degree after taking 3 years off to train and compete. I’m very thankful for my non-typical Asian parents, who have fully supported my decision to take a break from school to travel around the world doing what I love. You can only compete in badminton at the highest level when you’re fit and young, but you can always go back to school any time. What really worked out for me is that UCLA allows you to take breaks and resume your studies, so I’m very thankful.

5. What makes badminton unique as a sport?

One of my favorite things about this sport is that anyone can win. You don’t have to be the tallest, strongest, or fastest person in the room because it requires a combination of everything: physical, mental, technique, determination…I used to be so jealous of tall players because they didn’t even have to move! But then I developed things that worked to my advantage, like defense and consistency, and I found a different way to win that worked for me.

Coach's Corner: Coach Alistair Casey on Wang

1. What makes Iris unique as a player?

One thing that stands out is her physicality. Everyone knows that when you play against Iris, it’s going to be brutal. You’d better be prepared to rally as her matches almost always last over an hour. She’s only 5’2” but people think she’s a monster on the court. And the best part is that she’s old school. After the scoring system changed to 21, most players adopted an attacking style with lots of smashing and downward shots. But Iris likes to go high, which both slows down the game and prolongs it. And her defense is solid. So since her opponents can’t hit through her, they have to be prepared to go the distance to beat her.

2. Why do you believe in her so much as her coach?

Iris has a real desire to get better, and a solid work ethic to back that up. She always wants more, and isn’t satisfied easily. Even though Americans are usually looked down upon in International tournaments, she has such a belief in herself, this craziness, that asks, “Why not? Why can’t I beat the top players if I do my best? Why not me?”. And because of that, she has the potential to break through the barrier and become a top level international player as a home-grown American. It’s really amazing to see. And she’s still raw…she’s only 21 and hasn’t even reached her peak!

Want to know more? Check out Iris' Facebook page