China, Korea and Japan became the first three nations to qualify to the Finals of the 2006 Asian Under-16 Mixed Team Championships which will be held in Shenzhen in the Guangdong province of China from 15th - 17th December.
The East Asian preliminary from which the three qualified, was held in the Mongolian capital city of Ulaan Baatar on 18th & 19th September. The host nation was the fourth team entered in the qualifier.
In the wake of its surprise defeat at the hands of Malaysia in the Final of the inaugural championships in Kuala Lumpur last year, China had arrived in Ulaan Baatar with its strongest team. The winning margin of 5-0 it registered against Mongolia, Japan and Korea in the qualifying matches, underlined its seriousness about regaining the coveted Excellent Trophy.
With the competition taking on a new format this year – a mixed team event comprising one singles and one doubles for boys and girls and a mixed doubles as the fifth game, the Chinese look even more formidable. Last year’s series was confined to only boys.
Talking about this year’s event, Karen Koh, chief operating officer of Badminton Asia Confederation and the brain behind this series, explained that the format change was necessary to bring it in line with the Asian and the World Junior championships. “We did not want the Under-16 series to remain isolated from such similar tournaments like the Asian and World Championships. Last year we wanted to ‘test out the waters’ and gauze interest in this series and as such we kept in to the boys only. But the overwhelming success of the tournament as well as the inspired response from member nations convinced us the time was ripe to bring in the girls into the fold.”
The Under-16 Mixed team will be the appropriate platform from which youngsters can graduate on to the Asian and world levels. “This was one of our primary considerations when we conceived the Under-16,” says Karen. “Age-groups tournaments were aplenty in Asia but there were no competitions for such national age-group tournament at the regional level. Thus youngsters did not enjoy the luxury of preparing themselves against their age-peers before being thrown into the very competitive Asian Junior.”
The three remaining qualifying rounds of this year’s tournament for West Asia, South Asia and South East Asia will be played simultaneously on 28th & 29th October. The venues will be Colombo in Sri Lanka, Manama in Bahrain and Bandar Sri Begawan in Brunei. The top three teams from each of the region will gather in Shenzhen in December 15th to 17th, 2006
BAC administrative chief, Karen, is confident of improved participation this year. “We are expecting to improve on the 22 nations that took part last year in the four preliminaries.”