Han Aiping was born in 1962 in Wuhan, in Hubei Province, from which many other badminton greats hail, among them Tian Bingyi, Gao Ling, Zhao Yunlei and Wang Xiaoli.
A precocious talent, Han began training at 10 years of age, joining Hubei's provincial team just two years later when she was only 12. At age 15, she participated in the Chinese national championships, and was a runner-up in singles on her first try.
These outstanding results propelled the young Aiping onto the national team at age 16.
She was only 17 when she participated in and won the women’s singles in the 1979 World Championships of the short-lived World Badminton Federation (WBF).
After that achievement, at age 18, she suffered from hyperthyroidism and was kept away from the badminton courts for two years. Her career seemed to be doomed, but she refused to give up - she followed the prescribed medical treatment and came back with a bang.
In 1981, during her illness, the People’s Republic of China joined the International Badminton Federation (IBF), setting Han Aiping’s return onto the world badminton scene.
In September 1982, Han was a runner-up at the Chinese National Championships in women’s singles. The next year, in 1983, she won the Japan Open in singles and was a runner-up in the IBF World Championships, losing only to compatriot and singles archrival Li Lingwei. That same year, Han won her first doubles crown at the World Cup: one title in singles and another one in doubles (paired with the same Li Lingwei).
Rarely has badminton seen such a competitive yet friendly rivalry. Han Aiping was to share the top step of the podium with Li Lingwei in international competition on nine occasions, including three World Cups, one All England, and one World Championships title.
From 1983 to 1989, Han Aiping's impeccable technique, fierce attack, and light footwork led her to a flurry of international titles: four World Cups, four IBF World Championships, two All England titles and no less than five Hong Kong Opens.
Tall and lanky, Han was a fast mover, always very quick to the net, ready to pounce on any loose shuttle. Her numerous encounters with Li were displays of power versus touch and deception. “At the time, we were very comprehensive players and paid more attention to skills. Athletes nowadays rely more on strength and speed than on skills and they don’t have the touch we used to have”, according to Han.
Her results reached a pinnacle in 1985, when the razor-thin player won the World Championships, the All England, and the Swedish Open in both singles and doubles (with Li Lingwei) and the Hong Kong Open in singles and doubles (with Xu Rong).
She also reigned supreme at the 1986 Uber Cup where she and Li won all their singles matches in the final against Indonesia, permitting China to win their second consecutive title by a 3-2 margin.
Han fared even better at the 1986 Asian Games held in Korea. On top of a gold medal in singles against finalist Li Lingwei, both players won all their matches in both singles and doubles in the team event, and helped China whitewash Japan 5-0 in the finals.
With her gold medal at the 1987 World Championships held in Beijing, Han Aiping became the first player to successfully defend a world championship title in singles. To that, she added a silver medal in doubles, paired again with Li, whom she had just beaten in the singles finals.
Han remained on top of her game for a couple more years – winning seven titles in singles in 1988 and three in 1989. She participated in the one-day badminton tournament at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where badminton was an exhibition sport. Han snatched the silver medal, having been upset by Korean player Hwang Hye Young, 11-1, 8-11, 6-11.
After retiring in 1990, Han went to Japan to act as a club coach and then moved to Australia. In 2002, Han was called upon by the Hubei Provincial Sports Bureau to help the women’s provincial team prepare for the 2005 Chinese National Games. The three-time IBF world champion answered the call, sold her house in Melbourne and moved back to Hubei. “When I was a player, everything was paid for", recalled Han. "It was my turn to give back”, she said to explain her move.
After the 2005 Chinese National Games, Han Aiping took an administrative position, serving as Deputy Director of Youth at the Provincial Sports Bureau. She also founded her own badminton school in Wuhan in September 2005.
Han still holds a position within the Hubei Sports Bureau, promoting youth sports. Due to her public position, she often has to interact with fans. “It’s an opportunity for me because I represent not only myself, but also all the athletes from my province”, declared Han, who relishes her role as a public servant.
Han Aiping was inducted into the IBF Hall of Fame in 1998.
1989 – Most remarkable athlete in the 40 years following the foundation of the New People’s Republic of China
1998 – IBF Hall of Fame
Awarded seven times the Sports Medal of Honor by the National Sports Commission of the People’s Republic of China
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Badminton Handbook (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
Encyclopaedia of Badminton (Pat Davis)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
The Straits Times (June 21st, 1979)
-- By Yves Lacroix