Badminton: USA twins narrowly ahead in Olympic race to Paris 2024

As the qualifying window for the Paris Olympic Games enters its final month, there is at least one race that is headed for a photo finish. This is between the USA's Annie Xu/Kerry Xu and Canada's Catherine Choi/Josephine Wu, who are vying for a place in the Pan Am women's doubles.

Ranked 32nd, the Xu twins currently lead the race to Paris, but they only have a 172-point lead over their Pan Am rivals. The YONEX Pan Am Individual Championships 2024 in Guatemala next week, where the Canadians are seeded first and the USA pairing second, is likely to be the deciding factor. 

Considering how well the Xu sisters have done so far, it's remarkable how little attention they've received. The Xu's journey - an expensive one for any self-funded athlete, with the twins playing 23 events last year and 10 so far this year - has been supported by family and friends. 

"We worked in corporate accounting for a year and we saved up some money," said Annie Xu. "Sponsorship in the US is hard to come by and you need the right connections. Most of our competitions have been funded either by our savings or by parents, friends and family. We set up a GoFundMe and we've gotten some funding through that, but our also parents have also backed us," she added.

USA's Annie Xu (L) and Kerry Xu won silver at the 2023 Pan Am Games. GETTY IMAGES
USA's Annie Xu (L) and Kerry Xu won silver at the 2023 Pan Am Games. GETTY IMAGES

During the Olympic qualifying period, they reached the final of four International Challenge/Series events, won the Peru Challenge 2023 and helped the USA to the final of the Pan Am M&F Cup. They are the highest-ranked Pan Am pair with 40,827 points, ahead of Canada's Choi/Wu (34th) and the USA's Francesca Corbett/Allison Lee (38th) and Paula Lynn Cao Hok/Lauren Lam (40th). 

Despite being relatively new to the World Tour, they've already had some success this year, beating Margot Lambert/Anne Tran at the PETRONAS Malaysia Open 2024 and Treesa Jolly/Gayatri Gopichand Pullela at the YONEX Spain Masters 2024. At the YONEX French Open, they had three match points against the world number eight pair of Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota. 

Won by Spain's Carolina Marín in the singles competition, the YONEX All England was perhaps a harbinger of things to come  at the Pan Am Championships, as they faced Catherine Choi/Josephine Wu in the first round, a match the Canadians had to win to keep the Xu sisters in their sights. Despite losing in three games, the USA pair were philosophical about it.

Canada's Catherine Choi and Josephine Wu are the reigning Pan American champions. GETTY IMAGES
Canada's Catherine Choi and Josephine Wu are the reigning Pan American champions. GETTY IMAGES

"It was a lot of physical and mental struggle as the qualification was coming to an end," said Kerry Xu. "With a month to go, the pressure was really high, so you have to deal with that and also try not to let it affect you when you're playing. That's something we're still trying to work on. Unfortunately we didn't get the result we were hoping for, but at least we gave it our best shot," she continued. 

"It didn't feel like a first round, because this is usually the semi-final or final of the Pan Am," her sister said. "Whereas in another first round I'd just want to do my best to get to the next level, this time we went in with the mindset that we really wanted to win. Not just for ourselves, but for our families and everyone who's supported us," said Annie Xu. 

The sisters will have to fight hard to make the Olympic team. "We did well on the Asian tour in January, so we are happy with our performances. As far as the lead is concerned, we're trying not to think about it too much because we don't want to put any pressure on ourselves. We're happy to be in the Pan-Am continental standings by now and hopefully we can keep it," Kerry Xu concluded.