Forget summer vacation. Running down shuttlecocks on a badminton court will represent much of Matt Downton’s school break.
The 18-year-old Seaton grad is training at the Vancouver Lawn and Tennis and Badminton Club in preparation for the Pan American Junior Championships, July 22-29, in Edmonton.
Downton, who plays singles and doubles, qualified for the Pan Ams by pocketing a pair of gold medals at the National Under 19 tournament in Moncton earlier this season.
“I expect to be the best player I can,” said Downton. “I want to do some damage as a Canadian player on the international stage. We’re not traditionally very strong in the Pan Ams.”
Sponsored by Black Knight, Downton began hitting shuttles at age four with his dad, Terry, who took up badminton while in university in Saskatchewan.
“I started playing provincial tournaments at eight or nine in Under 10 so I played all the better players. It taught me to be patient; you have to learn how to lose before you win.”
The 5-foot-7, 145-pound dynamo amped up his training in the Under 12 division, teaming up with Vancouver’s Stuart McDonald to win the provincial U12 title.
“In U14, things started getting really fun and I went to the B.C. Summer Games in Kimberley-Cranbrook and I won in singles and our zone was third.”
He also enjoyed success at the U16 level, helping Team B.C. place second at the westerns in Winnipeg. In U19, Downton plays on the national circuit which features six or seven events a year. He and Victoria’s Candice Ip struck gold in mixed doubles, while he and Sam Dunner of Coquitlam did likewise in tournament play.
At junior nationals in Moncton, Downton and Dunner lost in three sets to the No. 1 ranked doubles team in the semifinals. The top two U18 doubles teams advanced to the Pan Ams.
Canadian Olympic coach Ram Nayyar has worked with Downton in Vancouver the last few years, and likes what he sees.
“In essence, he’s a scrappy player,” said Nayyar. “He plays with a lot of heart and he’s very fast. His primary strengths are that he’s tenacious and very fast.”
Downton, who also trains at the Okanagan Regional Badminton Centre in West Kelowna, will play for the Langara College Falcons next season on a scholarship.
Nayyar and some guest Danish coaches are fine tuning his game prior to the Pan Ams.
“I’m probably one of the fastest players,” said Downton, a former Rep and House soccer forward. “I can’t hurt you from the back of the court but I’m not going to let the bird hit the ground and I’ll make a nice shot.”
Matt and his dad put on major road miles going to tournaments, and Matt is thankful for the support.
“My dad has been my role model. He pushed me in the right direction. He dragged me on the court and gym and was my coach since Day 1.”
Said Terry, who is quite a Masters player: “Matt and I played in the Seattle Open. Who gets to play at the Open level with your kid? It was cool. We drove together 20 weekends (this season). We solved a lot of problems in the car.”
Added Terry: “I’m 48 and I don’t win anymore, but it’s not a waste of time to play me.”
Matt, who used to play a lot of badminton with his older brother, Mitch, also credits his mom, Danie, for being a “huge supporter.”
The beginnings of badminton can be traced to mid-18th century British India, where it was created by British military officers.
The fastest badminton stroke during game play was Fu Haifeng’s 206 mph (332 km/h) recorded smash.