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Raphi Kanchanaraphi: Teaching Life Lessons On and Off the Badminton Court

April 23, 2010

In Thailand, Raphi Kanchanaraphi was the Wayne Gretzky of badminton. He was recognized on the streets of his native country and was revered by badminton aficionados around the world. He rose from beginner to the top doubles player in the world in only a few years, and was renown for his unique crouching offensive smash return that left many a world-class player looking stunned when it was inflicted upon them.

The youngest of eight (he had seven older sisters), Raphi was born in Bangkok, Thailand on November 6, 1936. He started playing badminton at the age of 17 in 1953, and won his first Thailand Doubles Championship three years later in 1956. He was undefeated in doubles in the world from 1958 to 1961. He representing Thailand in International Competition 24 times from1960 to 1968, including twice in Thomas Cup competition [1960-61 & 1963-64], and was runner-up in the 1962 All-England Men’s Doubles.

In 1969, after retiring from competitive play, Raphi traveled to California to study. During a school break, he visited his friend Channarong Ratanaseangsuang in Calgary, who was the Head Badminton Professional at the Glencoe Club. Raphi enjoyed his visit so much that he stayed and became the Assistant Badminton Professional.

In 1973, Raphi became a Canadian citizenship and moved to Toronto to become the Head Badminton Professional at the Granite Club, where he stayed until his retirement in 1996. Raphi’s love of badminton was infectious. He moved comfortably among the very young, adults who where new to the game and world-class competitors. His “Ladies Ladder” programs were sold-out successes in Calgary and Toronto. On the competitive front, Raphi coached a long list of young badminton players to over 100 provincial, national and international titles. For Raphi’s competitive athletes, a relationship with him was about more than the championship titles they won. Raphi mixed lessons on life with his lessons on the court. He took time to understand the whole person.

“He was a really fantastic coach,” says one of Raphi’s former badminton protégés, Caroline Gibbings Mandell. “He emphasized the importance of goal setting, discipline, hard work, sportsmanship and keeping your cool on the court. He taught us to play hard but to enjoy life as well…things I’ll always remember.”

On three separate occasions, Raphi took delegations of young Canadian badminton players to Thailand. Said Ted Karon: “Raphi showed us more than the badminton courts. We met his family, saw incredible sights, learned about Thailand, Thai culture and Buddhism… he sparked in us a love of learning.”

At his standing-room only retirement party in 1996, Raphi, his wife Suda (whom he married in 1959), his son Rangsiman (Bad), and his daughter Baisri (Bee) welcomed more than 300 friends from across the country.

Raphi remained an astonishing and ferocious competitor well into his years. From 1970 to 1980, Raphi won four Canadian Men’s Doubles and one Canadian Mixed Doubles championships, and played for Canada on two Thomas Cup teams [1972-73, 75-76]. He won two Canadian Open Men’s Double’s Championships and one Canadian Open Mixed Doubles championships. In 1973, at the age of 37, Raphi and Channarong won the Canadian Open Men’s Doubles Championship by defeating the second ranked team in the world – the final point won by one of Raphi’s trademark offensive smash returns. He won numerous Canadian Championships at the Senior and Masters level, and the World Masters Men’s Doubles Championship in 1992. On hearing of Raphi’s passing, James Muir sent this message to Raphi’s family: “I am heartbroken. Raphi had such a profound influence on my life. He is one of my dearest and most treasured friends. I will miss him terribly”. In this, James spoke for all of Raphi’s friends.

Raphi died of a heart attack while playing the game he loved, with the latest generation of Thai badminton champions at the Thomas Cup trials, in Bangkok on February 19, 2010.

Tom P. Muir
April 5, 2010