Badminton: Garden Grove's Mangkalakiri is ready to play
BEIJING -- Not every athlete measures Olympic success in terms of medals won. Take badminton player Mesinee "May" Mangkalakiri of Garden Grove. Her years of struggle to make the U.S. team for the Beijing Games paid off Tuesday night when six family members arrived in China to see her play for the U.S. women's and mixed doubles teams.
"I got to talk to my dad, and he was like, 'Oh my gosh May, thank you so much. Because you made it, you’ve given the whole family a chance to come to China,' " Mangkalakiri said. "My mom and dad, one of their goals in life was always to just come to the Great Wall. And we finally got to all come together. So it’s really nice."
Of course it's sometimes wise to be careful what you wish for. Mangkalakiri's father, Noi, jetlagged after the 12-hour flight, almost took a great fall off the Great Wall shortly after arriving there.
"He started wobbling," Mangkalakiri said. "Someone had to pull him in."
Noi Mangkalakiri will probably be a little unsteady again on Sunday when his daughter takes the floor at the Beijing Univerity of Technology for her first-round women's doubles match. Badminton is a major sport in China and Mangkalakiri said she has heard scalpers are already doing a brisk business since the 7,500-seat arena is sold out.
"Everyone is just going crazy," she said. "When I tell my friends at home, they just don’t believe me."
After all, many of those friends saw Mangkalakiri play in last summer's U.S. Open in Orange County where, she said, "if you get 100, 200 people to come, that’s good.
"We know how popular badminton is in China, so we’re just all really excited. It’s just a great experience to be able to play with the crowd and atmosphere like that. It just makes us feel really proud to play a sport that people really do know and acknowledge and appreciate."
Regardless of how that match comes out, Mangkalakiri and her globe-trotting family already consider themselves winners.
"I tell my parents all the time, 'You guys get to go to a lot of places because of me,' " joked Mangkalakiri, who took her brother with her on previous national team trips to Denmark and Korea. But "because of them too, I'm also here. I'm really lucky."
-- Kevin Baxter
Photo: Mesinee "May" Mangkalakiri gathers her equipment in front of the USA Badminton Walk of Fame Plaza after practicing at the Orange County Badminton Club in April. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times