Asian Americans Going for the Gold in…

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The 28 Asian American Olympians featured here will walk with the hundreds of Americans representing the United States at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics on August 8. From the all-Asian American badminton and table tennis teams to the 105-pound female wrestler Clarissa Chun, these athletes have risen to the occasion, defeating stereotypes and hardships, and now represent our nation. AsianWeek congratulates these Olympians as they go for the gold.

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Raju Rai
Badminton
Birthplace: Atlanta, Ga.
Age: 25
Ethnicity: Indian
Event: Men’s singles

How did you get started in badminton?
My father is from India, where badminton originated. It was a passion of his, and I used to tag along. I fell in love with it.

Has being an Indian American played a role in your success?
In the Indian heritage, people are very loyal and respectful. Many Indians had to work extremely hard to be where they are today. That shows in my matches, like the sportsmanship, pride and respect I have for my opponents.

Why do you think Badminton is not so popular in America?

We don’t have enough sponsors, coaches or facilities where we can teach the sport. If we could get more money, we could expand its popularity to states other than California.


Annabelle Orme
Synchronized Swimming
Birthplace: New York, N.Y.
Age: 21
Ethnicity: Hapa Chinese
Event: Team

What is your favorite thing about synchronized swimming?
It mixes a lot of different sports into one, like dance, gymnastics and swimming. I did ballet, tap and gymnastics as a child, so it’s the perfect sport for me.

You were injured with back problems for a couple of months last year. What was the hardest part of that?

The worst thing was not feeling part of the team — sitting on the sidelines, watching the team and knowing that I could not practice. But my teammates were very supportive. I am still performing with a cracked rib.

What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you in competition?

In an exhibition in San Diego, Calif., my suit, which has a strap on the side, fell, so I had to do the entire routine with my hand over my chest holding the suit up.


Sandra Fong
Shooting
Birthplace: New York, N.Y.
Age: 18
Ethnicity: Hapa Chinese
Event: 50m rifle three position

Your sister Abigail competed in the trials but didn’t qualify. What was it like competing with her to make it to the Olympics?
We really can’t think of each other as family on the range. As much as I love Abby, on the range, we’re just competitors. She was happy for me, but was obviously very disappointed she didn’t make the team.

Your sister Danielle is going to Beijing for the Paralympics in September. What’s it like to both be going?

I’m so proud of her because she’s worked so hard to get where she is. When she was born, they told her she wouldn’t be able to walk, and she does; that she wouldn’t be able to talk, and she does; that she wouldn’t be able to go to a normal school, and she does.

Can you speak Chinese?

Only a little bit of Cantonese. It’s enough to talk a little bit with my grandparents and order lots of dim sum.


Clarissa Chun
Wrestling
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Age: 26
Ethnicity: Japanese and Chinese
Event: Women’s freestyle wrestling — 48kg / 105 lbs

Did you wrestle with boys in high school?
Yes — I was one of two girls on the team. I like wrestling with guys and am still wrestling with them to train for Olympics. It’s a different feeling than wrestling girls; boys seem to work and fight harder. If anything, it might make boys more uncomfortable wrestling with girls because the boys are like, ‘I don’t want to touch her boob!’

You trained at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs from 2002 until last year. How was that?

At first, it was new and exciting, but then I got stagnant there. It was hard to be training in the same room with the same people I would be competing against.

What do you plan to do after the Olympics?

I haven’t decided wrestling-wise, but I’ve made plans to teach English in Japan in September for a couple of years.


Becky Kim
Synchronized Swimming
Birthplace: Redwood City, Calif.
Age: 23
Ethnicity: Korean
Event: Team

What do the Olympics mean to you?
It’s a dream. I’ve learned so much and grown so much as a person being in the sport. Being raised in a Korean family and having teammates in the American culture, I experienced two families. It taught me to be very open and accept everyone for who they are — every shape, size, culture, background.

What’s next for you after the Games?
I’m planning to enroll again in Ohio State University and finish one more year of school. I want to get into nutrition and health to help people be healthy and happy in a natural way.

Have you had the opportunity to touch someone’s life as a role model?

I find that a lot of Asian American girls come up to me and tell me “I love you, you’re my hero.”


Khan “Bob” Malaythong
Badminton
Birthplace: Vientiane, Laos
Age: 27
Ethnicity: Laotian
Event: Men’s Doubles

What was it like growing up in Laos?
It was rough. We didn’t have much; I didn’t even have shoes. I only had one piece of underwear. I used to eat sticky rice and salt for a meal. We had one piece of meat and that was it. I was malnourished, really skinny but had a big belly. But I was happy. As a little kid you don’t think that there is a better place.

What was the biggest culture shock when you moved to the United States?
I threw up when I had pizza for the first time because it had cheese in it. But now I love cheese!

What is it like to play for America and for Laos at the same time?
I have pride in both countries, and I will represent both, but most of all America for giving me the opportunity to be in the Olympics. At Laos, I would never be playing badminton at the professional level because kids in Laos don’t have this kind of opportunity.


Sayaka Matsumoto
Judo
Birthplace: Omiya, Japan
Age: 25
Ethnicity: Japanese
Event: 48 kg Judo


You teach at the East Bay Judo Institute. Are there any rules you make sure to teach your students?

We try to teach the philosophy of judo. It’s not just a sport where you try to beat people up and win. It instills self-confidence and teaches you to be humble and have manners, integrity and respect for others.

Have you faced any stigma being a female in this sport?
Some people crack jokes like, “Oh, it’s just women’s judo …” But I don’t take it personally.

Do you hear a lot of “Asian Martial Arts” cracks?
I do get a lot of misconceptions of what judo is, like the “judo chop.” There’s no chopping in judo; it’s throwing and chokeholds.

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Lovieanne Jung
Softball
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Age: 28
Ethnicity: Chinese, Lithuanian,
Filipino, Spanish, Hawaiian
Position: Second base

Mesinee “May” Mangkalakiri
Badminton
Birthplace: Los Alamitos, Calif.
Age: 25
Ethnicity: Thai
Event: Women’s doubles

Eva Lee
Badminton
Birthplace: Hong Kong
Age: 22
Ethnicity: Chinese
Event: Women’s singles, doubles

Howard Bach
Badminton
Birthplace: Ho Chi Minh City,
Vietnam
Age: 29
Ethnicity: Vietnamese-Birthplace Chinese
Event: Men’s Doubles

Logan Tom
Women’s indoor volleyball
Birthplace: Napa, Calif.
Age: 27
Ethnicity: Hapa Chinese Hawaiian
Position: Outside hitter

Robyn Ah Mow-Santos
Women’s Indoor Volleyball
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Age: 32
Ethnicity: Chinese Hawaiian
Position: Setter

Lindsey Berg
Women’s Indoor Volleyball
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Age: 28
Ethnicity: Hapa
Position: Setter

Wang Chen
Table Tennis
Birthplace: Beijing, China
Age: 34
Ethnicity: Chinese
Event: Women’s singles, team

David Zhuang
Table Tennis
Birthplace: Guangdong, China
Age: 44
Ethnicity: Chinese
Event: Men’s singles

Crystal Huang
Table Tennis
Birthplace: Changsha, Hunan, China
Age: 29
Ethnicity: Chinese
Event: Women’s singles,
women’s team

Kevin Tan
Gymnastics
Birthplace: Fremont, Calif.
Age: 27
Ethnicity: Chinese
Event: Men’s gymnastics

Gao Jun
Table Tennis
Birthplace: Hebei, China
Age: 39
Ethnicity: Chinese
Event: Women’s singles, team

Natalie Coughlin
Swimming
Birthplace: Emeryville, Calif.
Age: 25
Ethnicity: Hapa Filipino
Event: 100m backstroke, 100m freestyle, 200m individual medley, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay

Nathan Adrian
Swimming
Birthplace: Bremerton, Wash.
Age: 19
Ethnicity: Hapa Chinese
Event: 4x100m free relay

Natasha Kai

Soccer
Birthplace: Kahuku, Hawai‘i
Age: 25
Ethnicity: Hawaiian, Chinese,
Filipino, Caucasian
Position: Forward

Taylor Takata

Judo
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawai‘i
Age: 26
Ethnicity: Japanese
Event: 66 kg Judo

Kayla Bashore

Field Hockey
Birthplace: Daegu, South Korea
Age: 25
Ethnicity: Korean
Position: Midfield/back

Amy Tran
Field Hockey
Birthplace: Harrisburg, Pa.
Age: 27
Ethnicity: Hapa Vietnamese
Position: Goalkeeper

Emily Cross
Fencing
Birthplace: Seattle, Wash.
Age: 21
Ethnicity: Hapa Korean
Event: Individual, team foil

Haley Ishimatsu

Diving
Birthplace: Bellflower, Calif.
Age: 15
Ethnicity: Japanese
Events: 10m platform,
10m synchronized

Bryan Clay
Track and Field
Birthplace: Austin, Texas
Age: 28
Ethnicity: Japanese and African American
Event: Decathlon

By Beleza Chan, Leila Kang, Steffi Lau, Miriam Ling, Vicki Mac, Ivan Natividad, Michelle-Linh Thuy Nguyen and Nancy Weng

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