When the world came knocking, Daryl Bissell almost didn’t answer the door. But he’s sure glad he did.
The talented 73-year-old athlete won gold and silver medals at the 2011 Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Senior Championships which, for the first time in their five-year history, were held in Canada this summer.
Coming off a three-gold medal performance at the B.C. Seniors Games in Castlegar, the timeline was going to be tight: the badminton event at the Games ended Aug. 20, and the Worlds began Aug. 21 on the Lower Mainland.
“The world championships are only staged every two years. They go from country to country. Two years ago they were in Spain. This year they came to Canada – Richmond, in particular – and were played at the Olympic Oval where they had the speed skating at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
“It’s a huge building,” Bissell said. Which is a good thing as there were 647 competitors attending, sorted into five-year age increments beginning at 35 and extending up to Bissell’s 70-plus division.
Bissell qualified for the world championships with a strong showing at the nationals in Stratford, Ont. in April. “I reached the semifinals in men’s singles only to lose to the eventual gold medallist. In mixed doubles and men’s doubles I won gold in both. I had a pretty good nationals,” said the modest Bissell, who is quick to credit his partners with their roll in his success.
“I wasn’t going to play the world senior championships (due to) the turnaround time,” Bissell said. “In any event, the phone rang one night and it was a fellow from Vancouver who said, ‘My partner’s dropped out, would you be willing to play with me?’
Bissell said no, but realizing the man would be unable to locate another partner who had qualified, phoned him back and said he would. The caller was Darryl Knott of Vancouver, whom Bissell had defeated at this year’s B.C. championships in March at the Vancouver Racquets Club en route to winning gold in all three disciplines (men’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles).
Knott got Bissell registered as a late entry, and much to Bissell’s relief, his events at the Worlds didn’t start until Aug. 23, allowing him to rest up and prepare for his first foray into the international badminton scene.
As a late entry, Bissell was unable to obtain the official Canadian outfit but one of his teammates was kind enough to donate one. And wearing the Maple Leaf, he proceeded to proudly represent both himself and his country.
Although he had qualified for all three events, he competed only in men’s singles and doubles. “They had pretty strict rules about only being able to compete in three events,” said Bissell. “My mixed doubles partner, playing in the age group below me, was in three events, so they wouldn’t allow her to play with me.
“There were five teams in men’s doubles, which is usually straight knockout, but they allowed us to play round robin. We were seeded last and we won all our games,” including knocking off the #1 seed in the final.
“In singles I was seeded 10th. There were 16 of us. I worked my way through to the finals where I played the first seed, a fellow from Denmark. That was the only match I lost in two weeks and I had to settle for the silver,” Bissell said.
The highlight of competing with the world’s best? “The highlight was that I almost missed it,” Bissell said. “Being able to be part of that, I was so fortunate. I think back now what I would have missed if I hadn’t gone. It was a wonderful experience. Never mind the medals or anything…just being exposed to all the international players, the different customs people have… It was just a unique and wonderful experience.”
The fifth annual world championships were Bissell’s first, but they could also be his last. “It’s something I probably will never take part in again – because of the travel, and (also) they are seriously thinking of cutting our age level out,” he said.
Bissell noted there were good crowds watching the badminton. “A lot of participants also spectated,” he said.
“Each match they had an official umpire with what looked like a computer pad hooked up to an electronic scoreboard that stood beside the court so the crowd could see the score. The top band (of the scoreboard) was red and the bottom band was green, and your name would be in one of those sections, like ‘Bissell – Canada.’ The the score was flashed up instantly,” said Bissell.
“Across from the umpire another person was watching for service faults and net faults. On the corners they had three or four linesmen, depending on the type of game … quite a number of personnel. Even at nationals we didn’t have that sort of stuff.”
Bissell has been a member of the Courtenay Badminton Club for 36 consecutive years and notes the club (which meets Tuesday and Thursday nights during the September-April season) is over 50 years old. He also travels to Campbell River on Sundays to further hone his skills.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the backing of my family. They’ve been very good about me going to tournaments. My wife (Carol) has been especially supportive. I don’t think I’d be where I would without her backing.”
Fittingly, Daryl and Carol’s courtship began on a badminton court. “She was the top women player at the University of Victoria. I would never have met Carol, I was ahead of her in university, but we played on the UVic badminton team and met on the court in 1965,” said Bissell.
Born in Vernon, Bissell came to the Valley in the summer of 1974 from Armstrong. He didn’t pick up a badminton racquet until he was 21 years old. “I started late,” he said. His introduction to the sport came when a friend invited him to join a group who were going to the local badminton club. “And that’s what started me. Fifty-two years later I’m still going strong,” he said.
“It’s not a difficult game to pick up on a general basis,” Bissell said. “If you want to be a really good badminton player, that’s a different story. You’ve got to put an awful lot of work into it. Especially for the singles, you have to be in very good physical shape.
“I do road work, work with light weights and (throw in) some stretching exercises. The strongest point of game is my mobility. I’m reasonably proficient at most of the basics, but it’s my quickness and my mobility and my stamina that’s my strength. Not quite like the Energizer Bunny, but not bad,” he laughed.
With a trophy case full of medals from provincial, national and now international competitions to his credit, Bissell has no plans to slow down. “My goal at the moment is to play in the BC Seniors Games when I’m 80 – in the competitive division.”