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Michelle Li

by Michelle The

Michelle Li is the finest player in the Pan Am region ever; she sits in the top 10 world ranking with 4 Pan Am Games gold medals, 4 Pan Am Championships gold medals, and a Commonwealth Games gold medal in her pocket. However, that success didn’t come instantly. She has had her own struggles around lack of funding and solo travel while coping with injuries and playing with pain.  Badminton glory is something she has pursued since she was a little kid, even after disapproval from her closest people. There was one thing she knew for sure; she is very passionate about badminton and she wouldn’t give it up. She chose to follow her dream.

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In her best days, Michelle Li is a pure delight to watch. Her beautiful shots and powerful smashes, paired with her tenacity, make for a great badminton match for spectators.  It’s obvious that she loves to play and enjoys being part of the sport.

Born in Hong Kong, Michelle Li moved to Canada at the age of six with her family. She picked up her first racket at age 11, playing with her mom at a local community center. Not long after, she started training at her current club, Lee’s Badminton. Even in the early days, her coach, Jennifer Lee saw her mental toughness and believed she could succeed.

In Canada, badminton does not get a lot of attention so she has to constantly deal with the lack of financial support. Even though she is a top 10 athlete, it is still a struggle for her to get sponsors. Badminton Canada tries their best to help but they just don’t have enough funding to fully support their athletes.

““Because badminton is such a small sport in Canada, sponsors aren’t interested in badminton. And if I go to Asia, they wouldn’t sponsor someone from Canada. They’d sponsor someone from their own country. So, it has always been a struggle financially to figure out how I’m gonna fund my next tournament,”

Michelle Li

In the past, she often had to travel on her own without a team in her corner.  Once in a while her coach could come along, but not always. Incredibly they would sometimes have to talk through WhatsApp to discuss tactics. Definitely not the ideal situation for an athlete mid-tournament.  More recently though, she has started working with a personal coach and a therapist from Taiwan who have been able to accompany her to competitions and that has helped her a lot. Covid has restricted this to some degree but she is usually with the Team Canada coaches and fellow players.

Like most elite athletes Michelle has had to overcome injuries. Leading up to the 2016 Olympics, she discovered that she had a tear in her patella tendon, right knee, and hip, along with a broken bone in her right foot. After Rio, she went through surgery and was forced to take significant time off from competing.  She underwent grueling hours of rehab just to make her whole right leg felt like hers again. She had to relearn the basics and crawl up the ranking board anew. It was a year that she described as being “really really tough”.

After the rehab things started to look bright again.  With strong determination Michelle Li trained hard and has kept improving ever since. She has won 2 Macau Open titles, and made it to the semifinals of some big tournaments beating tough opponents like Tai Tzu Ying and Nozomi Okuhara along the way. Her ‘A’ game is creative and hard-hitting.  So long as her focus isn’t diluted by worries about money or pain, she can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best and come away with a result.

With the Tokyo Olympics coming up, Michelle Li has a dream to stand on the podium.  Her motivation is to change the sport on her side of the world for the better. She believes a medal would really raise the profile of badminton in Canada and help her make that happen.  

Her story will encourage other aspiring juniors to defy odds, pursue their dreams, believe in what they can do, and become champions. She always felt that she wasted a lot of time just trying to figure things out alone, and she hopes her experience can help others speed up their own process. She wants to promote the sport and help people have a better chance of succeeding. Let’s wish her all the very best for the coming Olympics and for the rest of her career! Keep fighting, Michelle!


For more coverage of Michelle Li follow @michellethe22 on Twitter


©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton Outliers

Sometimes players burst onto the badminton scene from nations with no obvious tradition in the sport. It’s a fascinating topic to examine, not least because it includes some of our favourites. It’s remarkable that the majority of these athletes are women who play singles. Here are people who have had to break down barriers at every point in their careers and it’s arguable that a resolute focus translates best to the singles game. The loneliness of the court, often with no support staff can be a difficult challenge. To be able to meet the challenge and succeed takes an exceptional person.

Carolina Marin. The current Olympic Champion hails from a country that has never enjoyed headline success in badminton yet she has won the World Championships 3 times and has been on the podium at just about every BWF tournament at some time in her career. Initially she loved flamenco, but after watching a friend play badminton she was hooked. The sport had such a low profile in Spain it’s said that her parents had not even heard of it when she asked for her own racket. It’s important to her story that her coach – Fernando Rivas – has also been a single-minded pioneer. He is a sports scientist who has studied badminton and conducted research in other European countries. He had been a player but not the country’s best. When he arrived at the national training centre in Spain (2005) he encountered signifiicant resistence to his new approach. The prevalent culture had been shaped by an influential coach who had left but there was a reluctance to embrace a different style. The rise of Marin could not have happened without Rivas and his development of a new way of training. Likewise Rivas needed a talent like Marin to prove that his methods worked. Clearly they do; the next step is to see if a badminton legacy is created and Spain becomes a European powerhouse of the sport.

Saina Nehwal. Today Saina is a worldwide superstar whose appeal reaches far beyond sport. It’s not true to say that badminton was unknown in India before she came along because Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand had been high profile men’s shuttlers – both winners of the All England amongst other titles. Nevertheless Saina elevated the game and contributed hugely to the normalisation of women’s participation in it in so many countries. Often in the early days, her career was characterised by the phrase ‘Saina versus China’ because the world scene was dominated by exceptional Chinese players. Her determination and stubborness got her to the point where she could compete with – and beat – the world’s best. She is an inspiration to millions of people who have taken up the sport because of her. A true trailblazer.

Michelle Li is the best Canadian to compete in World badminton. Although she was born in Hong Kong her playing career began after her family settled in Canada. She receives no financial support so has to fund her tournament participation. Despite this she is a top 15 WS, who has come back from serious knee surgery

“…I kind of do everything on my own. When I’m in Canada I don’t have any training because I don’t have anyone to train with…most of my training happens in tournaments…For sure, if I win a medal in Tokyo it will get better. Nobody in Canada expected me to do well. If I can generate better results for Canada, it will change the situation.

Michelle Li in Sportstar.

Kirsty Gilmour is Scotland’s stand-out player. Recently the Scottish women’s team qualified for the Uber Cup and will make their debut in the competition with Gilmour as a key component. Although Britain has a vibrant badminton community, athletes who make it into the world top 30 are not common and it’s a tribute to her dedication that she can go toe-to-toe with the best in the world. She set her sights on Olympic qualification and this has taken her on what can be a lonely road to get enough points. She often has to compete with no coach at her side but should qualify for Tokyo as a member of TeamGB.

It’s not true to claim that these players came out of nowhere. They are athletes who have emerged from a club environment with an extra spark that has driven them to new competitive heights. Most of them are self-funded with a tiny support network compared to Chinese or Indonesian players. There are plenty more that I could have looked at: Beiwen Zhang (USA) and Yvonne Li (Germany) are two obvious examples. They are typically women who have had to work hard and sacrifice things along the way to achieve a dream. I hope we see them all compete successfully at the Olympics and continue to inspire others to enjoy a wonderful sport.


If you enjoyed this take a look at my longer article about Saina https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/10/08/indias-saina-nehwal-trailblazer-legend/

©2022 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved