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Black Star Brings Prominence to Swedish Badminton

May 28, 1988

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Christine Magnusson, Sweden’s longtime badminton champion, sometimes hears her fans mistakenly cheering for the wrong side.

Magnusson, who is originally from Uganda, is not the stereotype of the tall blonde Swede. But she has put Swedish badminton on the map.

″When I play international tournaments here at home, the audience often roots for my opponent. People take for granted that the white player is the Swede,″ she said in a recent magazine interview.

She doesn’t take offense. ″People abroad are surprised to learn I’m Swedish, so I tell them ’I just dyed my hair,‴ she said.

Magnusson has been the top woman player in Swedish singles and doubles since 1983. She is ranked second in Europe and fifth in the world, according to Grand Prix points released in April.

Badminton is a popular sport among Sweden’s 8.4 million people. There are 7,000 registered players and an estimated half million amateurs, according to the Swedish Badminton Federation.

But it’s not a spectator sport, and Magnusson was relatively unknown even at home until her picture appeared on the cover of a glossy monthly news magazine this year.

An inside picture showed her in a bathtub filled with badminton birdies, an alluring shot that led to suggestions for more modeling jobs.

Modeling ″would be fun, but makeup and such things are not really for me,″ she said in an interview with the Associated Press. She’d rather be behind the camera, and may take up photography after retiring from sport.

Magnusson, 23, came to Sweden at the age of 10 with her mother and Swedish stepfather. The family fled Uganda during the rule of Idi Amin.

Introduced to the game in Uganda, she said badminton classes in Sweden helped her adjust to her new homeland. Within three years she was on the Swedish national team and soon made her mark in international play.

After 13 years, she is totally Swedish, down to her Stockholm slang and accent. Returning home from a tournament ″feels great - even the taxes and the cold. To feel the chilly, fresh air in your face after breathing exhaust fumes in Bangkok is a relief.″

Foreign opponents are curious about her, she said.

″They find it kind of funny and ask how on earth I ended up here. Especially the Chinese were puzzled at first, but now everybody knows me.″

The upcoming Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, will show whether Magnusson can break the Chinese domination of world badminton.

″At first I felt intimidated, they were so many and so good. But now I’ve met them so many times and I’m not in awe any more,″ she said.

Badminton is back in Olympic competition as an exhibition sport for the first time since 1972 and is scheduled to be a medal sport for the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain.

Magnusson is the only black woman on the European badminton circuit. She says she’d like to play in the United States, where she would not be so unusual.

″An American coach once told me he wanted to set up a U.S. exhibition tour, which is a good idea, I think. Badminton is coming fast over there.″

She has taken active part in the Swedish chapter of Athletes Against Apartheid. ″It’s one thing to think about it and another to act,″ she said. ″I don’t have as much time as I wish, but I talk to other athletes and try to make an impact that way.″

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