Mountain View native Timothy Lam started swinging a badminton racket when he was four years old. It was a way to play with his father.
Nearly 20 years later and a journey that took him across the globe, Lam will reach the pinnacle of his badminton career as a member of the United States Olympic team.
"It was a sense of relief," Lam said during a recent telephone interview. "With everything that happened with COVID and the Olympics being postponed, the extra year made it hard on everybody."
Lam took advantage by entering tournaments, self-funded, all over the world in an attempt to accumulate enough ranking points to qualify.
Despite being the top-ranked men's singles player in the United States, Lam had to strengthen his international status: USA Badminton chooses its athletes based on the world rankings. He's currently No. 88, good enough for a nomination.
Lam, who was always on the qualifying list, was officially notified that he had a spot on the team on July 5.
It made all those overseas trips worth it, including one in Iran at the beginning of last year, just after the U.S. delivered a missile strike.
"It was a huge risk I was willing to take," Lam said. "It all worked out."
Lam most looks forward to the Opening Ceremonies.
"Walking with all those great athletes is what I will treasure the most," he said.
Until he won the U19 singles title (as a 17-year-old Los Altos High student) at the 2014 Junior Pan Am Games, Lam wasn't thinking seriously of qualifying for the Olympics.
Lam dedicates up to 16 hours a week to his training and has practiced at several clubs in the Bay Area. He started at the Bay Badminton Center in Milpitas, where his father was affiliated.
"I always played competitive badminton at the national level until college (at Cal State Pomona)," Lam said. "That's when my tournament schedule was packed."
In 2018, Lam reached the championship match in each the Guatemala International and Bahrain International. The next year he earned a gold medal at the Zambia International.
Last year he took a bronze medal at the Peru Futures Series.
A seven-time junior national champion and three-time junior Pan Am champion, Lam continued to build on his world rankings.
Having fun playing a sport he loved, Lam stayed on point throughout the grind of a tournament schedule.
"I'm not focused on the results so much as trying to play the best I can," he said. "My priority was to have fun."
Lam also needed the mental edge to stay focused in big matches before large crowds.
"I need to have the ability to play the right shot at the right moment amidst all that anxiety," he said.