Chao “Charles” Gu
San Gabriel, California
By Jack Forbes (Rex Lin, Mandarin/English Interpreter)
26-year-old Gu Chao started playing badminton at nine in Shanghai, China. He was selected for the Shanghai Badminton Club at age 14. By 18 years of age, Chao was invited to and began playing and training with China’s National Team in Beijing. In August 2014, he traveled to the U.S. to study English. In February 2015, Chao, who now goes by “Charles”, dominated Division “A” Men’s Singles to take first place at San Diego’s Dave Freeman Open Badminton Classic. To top that achievement, on May 1-3, 2015, Charles captured first place in Men’s Singles at the 2015 Boston Open of badminton and shared third place in Men’s Doubles.
Forbes: Charles, how did you get started in badminton?
Gu: When I was nine, my school coach suggested I try it out. So I did and after five years of school training and tournaments, a scout recommended me to the Shanghai Badminton Club, a top level Juniors badminton team.
Forbes: How does playing with the Shanghai Badminton Club get started?
Gu: Recruitment for a Province team in China is highly prestigious and very selective. Once chosen, your parents are asked to consent. For convenience in travel and competition, everyone on the Shanghai team lives in team dormitories five nights a week. Two days a week are spent at home with your parents. On weekday evenings, students have academic study.
Forbes: What events did you play there?
Gu: Doubles, Mixed Doubles and Singles, but eventually, I specialized in Singles.
Forbes: Was that of your own choice?
Gu: Partly, and partly a decision by my head coach, World Champion Chen Tianlong. I actually prefer Singles over Doubles because to me, Singles is more exciting and gives me command of the entire game, where responsibility for the match is on my shoulders.
Forbes: Did you have much success in tournaments as a Junior?
Gu: Players compete against other province teams in what’s known as the China Badminton League. During the five years I was there, in my age brackets, I was consistently successful across China in the upper tier of that league.
Forbes: What were training conditions like for you during that period?
Gu: For five and one-half out of seven days you train, travel and play in regional tournaments. During the weekdays, badminton training is three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Training was very intense and if a player didn’t give at least 90 parcent in training and achieve results in tournaments, they eventually would be replaced and sent home. This is quite different from what my students experience here in the U.S..
Forbes: You’re coaching badminton now?
Gu: On a volunteer basis, yes, with Ingrid Chen of the ABC training program. Our coaching styles are very complimentary since she also had played for Shanghai Badminton Club and for several years as a team member of China’s National Team.
Forbes: You were saying that conditions were quite different in the China for Shanghai Badminton Club players compared with juniors training with you and Ingrid…
Gu: Yes, in the U.S., things are far less structured. One of the biggest cultural differences I noticed when I arrived here was that in order for U.S. juniors to succeed they need a lot more self-discipline and self-motivation because badminton is not planned out for them as it can be in China.
Forbes: So, after years with the Shanghai team, did you eventually move on?
Gu: Yes, at age 18 I was asked to compete and train as a singles player with China’s National Team.
Forbes: Where is that located?
Gu: In Beijing. I moved there, lived in a two-to-a-room dormitory and received a salary. At any given time, there were approximately 50 players on each of the first, the second and the third teams to travel to and compete at each event. Sponsors and the Chinese government pay for all of this.
Forbes: Did you have a lengthy badminton career with the National Team?
Gu: After about one year as a singles player there, I left to pursue a degree in Financial Management at the University of Tong Ji in Shanghai. Then, following graduation, I traveled here to study English at University of the West.
Forbes: How is that coming along?
Gu: It is very difficult, but I’ve been studying English five days a week for the past six months and it’s getting better.
Forbes: How do you train currently?
Gu: I’ll play pick-up doubles games at Los Angeles Badminton Club two to three days a week, or hit with Ingrid. To help develop physical strength and endurance, I’ll wear a ten-pound weight vest in a singles match with her, where I play full-court and she plays half-court. Then, I’ll do strength-training and conditioning on my own another two to three days a week.
Forbes: How did you feel heading into your singles matches at the 2015 Dave Freeman Open Badminton Classic tournament?
Gu: I had confidence, but I was nervous.
Forbes: And winning first place in Division “A” Singles…?
Gu: Very happy and excited. In October 2014, I won Men’s Singles at the UCLA Open, and at the 2014 LABC Thanksgiving tournament, I took first place in Funky Doubles with Kevin Chan. The Dave Freeman win was an even bigger challenge and I saw it as the real starting point of my badminton career in the U.S..
Forbes: Last week you took first place in Men’s Singles and shared Third Place in Doubles at the 2015 Boston Open. How did it feel to win Singles?
Gu: Great. I was so happy. My Finals opponent, Kwong Beng Chan of Malaysia, was consistent and very quick on his feet.
Forbes: What about playing number one seed, former English National Team member, Andrew Smith in the Semis?
Gu: He beat me in the first game. When I backhand-served, he was so quick he could beat me in just a few hits. So in the second game, I changed strategy and served forehand deep to him. It gave me more time to see his first shot and it proved to be a winning strategy through both the second and the final game.
Forbes: What happened in your Doubles Semis loss?
Gu: I had never previously played with the talented Halim Haryanto Ho and our styles of play were different. Still, we won three matches prior to that loss at the tournament.
Forbes: The Singles trophy looked heavy. Is that yours to keep?
Gu: Players receive medals. At the Boston Open, you can keep the trophy only if you win the same event three consecutive years.
Forbes: Do you have any other major tournaments in your sights now?
Gu: Yes, the New York Open—Downey Cup is coming up in June 2015.
Forbes: What are your long-range goals?
Gu: Well, my immediate goal here is to continue to improve my English, which is very important to me. Along the way, I want to develop a much greater base of interest and talent in badminton in the U.S., and coaching at ABC will advance that goal. But my long-range personal goal is to play badminton on the U.S. National Team and compete for the U.S. in the Olympic Games.