Badminton World Federation (BWF)

Classic bloodline: Australian badminton star Gronya Somerville descended from a famous Chinese scholar

The 22-year-old from Melbourne with the distinct Chinese features is directly related to Kang Youwei, a noted calligraphy and thinker from the Qing Dynasty

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 November, 2017, 10:54pm

Australia is not known for producing badminton stars, but an exception could be in the making.

For Gronya Somerville and her women’s doubles partner, Setyana Mapasa, being ranked 32nd in the world is not going to grab many headlines, even if they are the top pair from the Oceania region – but the 22-year-old’s family history makes an interesting story.

Born in Melbourne, Somerville looks like any Australian athlete at first glance, but if you take a deeper look into the face, she has some distinctly Chinese features. Her great-great grandfather, Kang Youwei, was a prominent Chinese scholar from Guangdong who led the movements to establish a constitutional monarchy in the late Qing Dynasty and was an ardent Chinese nationalist and internationalist.

“I am half Chinese and half Australian,” said Somerville, who has been competing in the Hong Kong Open with her playing partner. She used some simple Mandarin to introduce herself. “My father was born in Guangzhou before moving to Hong Kong and then Melbourne where I was born,” she said. “I know my great-great grand father was a famous person though he passed away long time ago. He is a pretty inspiring person because of the kind of things he did in China.”

Somerville was told her family history by her mother when she was young but also learned more through numerous interviews with mainland media when she was playing in China.

The Australian was a popular figure in China when her coach first told the mainland media about her family history a couple of years ago. “It has died down a little bit about my Chinese origin but I am still proud of my great-great grandfather,” she said.

Somerville picked badminton as a sport when she was young but that has little to do with her Chinese origin.

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“I went through a talent identification programme in school and took up badminton as a result. I tried other sports, including tennis, but I just love badminton,” she said. “I know there are limited opportunities for the sport in my country but there are pros and cons as I do not face much competition like in other mainstream sports. It’s a lot easier for me to qualify for major events.”

Somerville and Mapasa reached the quarter-finals in the China Open last week, which was one of their best results but were stopped in the second round in Hong Kong.

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Her next target will be the 2018 Commonwealth Games where the pair is aiming for a gold medal in the women’s doubles before they focus on the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020. “I just focus on the doubles as it’s difficult to find a mixed doubles partner in Australia,” said Somerville, who is now spending a week-long training stint at the Sports Institute in Fo Tan.