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By James Mirtle

I’ve never had the chance to speak to a national champion of anything, so it was with much interest that I tracked down Joycelyn Ko last month.

I had the vague notion that someone at such a high level of competition would need to have an intense personality, fierce competitive instincts and the ability to chew a pencil-necked reporter up and spit him out. I was scared.

Talking to the reigning Canadian junior champion, however, was a slightly different experience than I’d anticipated.

“I think it’s really fun,” said Ko of playing for Ryerson.Her voice was so soft I found myself pressing my ear into the receiver.”Everyone on the team makes it really great.” How about Rob Fullerton, the team’s coach? “Rob’s really nice,” she said. And has he helped improve your game? “Hmmmmm,” she said. “Not really. Mainly the cardio we do helped me prepare for the World Championships.”

Ah, right, the World Championships – that’s what I called her about. Ko was at the World Championships in Vancouver from Oct. 17-31.She and eight others, including her longtime doubles partner Cathy Chau, faced off against the best teams in the world-namely Korea, China and Japan.

Canadian teams generally have a tough time at the international level due to badminton’s popularity in Asia, and this year was no exception.

Canada finished eighteenth out of twenty countries, and Ko bowed out in the second round against a professional player from Indonesia. At 18, Ko already has a litany of accomplishments too numerous to list (although we tried our best over on the right).

She’s been a provincial junior champion “six or seven” times and won multiple medals at the Pan American Championships.She also held both the singles and doubles national titles in the under-16 category two years ago.

It had been her goal to make it to the World Championships for a while. Coach Fullerton says that Ko’s peaceful demeanour doesn’t take away from her killer instinct on the court.

“She’s really intimidating (to play) because of her skill level,” said Fullerton.”But it depends on the situation.If she’s playing a weaker opponent, she won’t try to intimidate them.Against some of the stronger players, she can really turn up the focus on them.”

This season with Ryerson, Ko faced the top players from other OUA schools. She didn’t lose a singles match all year. A member of Lee’s Badminton Club in Markam, Ko has been playing badminton since she picked up the game in her cousin’s backyard at age nine. Ko’s decision to come to Ryerson, however, had little to do with badminton.

“It wasn’t mainly about badminton,” she said. “It was mainly about the course-interior design.”

Regardless, Ko is a welcome addition to a badminton program in need of a superstar.

“She’s the top female player in the league, no doubt,” Fullerton said earlier this year. “Basically, when she plays, it’s one or two guaranteed wins.There really isn’t anyone who can compete with her in the OUA.”

It is high praise for a rookie athlete, but by all accounts it’s well-deserved. Being a national champion can’t be easy, but to be one and have humility is something special.

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