Badminton historians and fans love to use the word “unparalleled” when discussing legends of the sport — unless they’ve uttered Betty Uber’s name in the same sentence, their use of the term would be a disservice to this legend!
Elizabeth “Betty” Corbin was an English badminton player who is famous today as one of the pioneers of women’s badminton. She was one of the most dominant players in the European scene between 1930 – 1952, winning 13 All England titles in the singles and doubles divisions. Also among her accomplishments are 14 Scottish Open titles and 12 Irish Open championships. Betty Corbin also held eight Welsh Open titles. Betty Corbin was competitive both in badminton and tennis, taking part in several major tennis competitions, including Wimbledon. She later married fellow badminton player Herbert Uber in 1925. By taking up the family name, Betty Uber would become the person whose name appears on the Uber Cup. In 1996, Betty Uber became one of the first inductees into the Badminton Hall of Fame, alongside George Alan Thomas. Betty Uber passed away in 1983 with records and achievements that will forever be hers to keep.
Betty Uber didn’t just give the most prestigious women’s team cup a good name (literally); she paved the way for women’s badminton and positioned England as a powerhouse in the sport.
Read on to learn more about Betty Uber and the achievements that cement her position in the Badminton Hall of Fame!
Where it All Began: A Tale of Two Sports
Betty Uber’s early sporting career was a balancing act between two sports — tennis and badminton. Before 1930, Betty Corbin had already been active as a women’s singles and doubles tennis player. In fact, some of her best years as a tennis player were between 1929 – 1946.
Perhaps her best performance as a tennis player was in 1930. In 1930, she competed at Wimbledon, reaching the fourth round of the women’s singles event.
In the fourth round, she faced Phyllis Mudford King. King and Uber played until King emerged victorious. Despite losing, it was the farthest Betty Uber had ever gone in a Wimbledon tournament.
It’s important to note that Betty Uber played during the Pre-Open era of tennis. During this period in the sport’s history, only amateurs competed in grand slam events like Wimbledon. The amateur status was a requirement since players received no compensation or monetary awards for participating.
In short, tennis wasn’t a sport for those looking to play professionally; at least, not during this period. Luckily, in the case of Betty Uber, she had badminton to fall back on as a sport that ran concurrently with her tennis endeavors on the grass court. It would also be the sport that would etch her name into the history books.
In the same year as her Wimbledon defeat in 1930, Betty Uber won the women’s doubles event of the Irish Open. Sharing the top podium with her was her partner, Marian Horsely.
Her Irish Open medal haul didn’t stop there, as she claimed first place in the women’s singles and mixed doubles events. Betty Uber paired up with her husband Herbert Uber for the mixed doubles event, beating B.P Cook and C.M. Patten.
In addition to her first Irish Open title, Betty Uber won her first All-England in the same year. At the 1930 All England Open Badminton Championships, she paired with her husband Herbert Uber again to win the mixed doubles title.
The victory made Betty and Herbert Uber the first married couple to win the All England!
Betty Uber returned at the 1931 All England to defend her mixed doubles title. Successfully defending her mixed doubles crown with her husband, Betty Uber snatched the women’s doubles title with Marian Horsley, as well.
Betty Uber also won the doubles event with Marian Horsley at the 1931 Scottish Open. Betty Uber also dominated the women’s singles event at the Scottish Open and won.
The All England Open, Circa 1930s
Before we talk about Betty Uber’s impressive All England performances, I need to present some context to highlight the impressiveness of her feats.
Since its inception in 1899, the All England Open Badminton Championships had been the ultimate proving ground for shuttlers in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
However, at the dawn of the 1930s, the All England began seeing an influx of European shuttlers. These overseas players were intent on dominating the English at their game.
As a result, the All England opened itself to a larger pool of competitors. Certain European nations began proving themselves as powerhouses on the court. Among the powerhouse nations that were mainstays in the tournament were the Danes.
In short, Betty Uber competed — and dominated — at a time when the All England had more competitors than ever hungry for the prestigious title!
Betty Uber’s Success at the All England Open
Betty Uber is a legend of the sport for many reasons, one of which is her impressive run at the All England. Betty Uber is the only player with 13 All England Championships to her name, and in multiple events. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she also won 13 All England Opens — consecutively!
Betty Uber kicked off her All England run in 1930 with her husband, Herbert Uber. It was in the 1930 All England where the pair not only won the mixed doubles event, but became the first married couple to achieve the feat.
The 1931 All England Open saw Betty Uber dominating the women’s and mixed doubles events. At the 1932 All England, she defended her mixed doubles title for the second time. Albeit with a different partner in Donald Hume, Betty Uber also defended her mixed doubles crown at the 1934 All England.
Betty Uber also dominated the 1935 All England in the mixed doubles event with Hume. It was here where she also won her first All England singles title, to boot!
From 1937 – 1938, Betty Uber won the women’s doubles events with Diana Doveton. The All England wouldn’t take place until 1947.
The 1947 All England was the first All England Open event after the Second World War. Unfortunately, Betty Uber couldn’t participate in the event due to the devastating blizzard that hit London that day.
She returned at the 1948 All England with a new partner — Queenie Allen. From 1948 – 1952, Uber and Allen continued to win the women’s doubles events at the All England.
Betty Uber’s victory at the 1952 All England Open brought her her 13th All England title. As a result, she has the most All England titles of any badminton player since Margaret Tragett, née Larminie!
Betty Uber wasn’t only successful because of her title victories; she’s also one of the greats because of her unparalleled achievements.
Between 1926 – 1951, Betty Uber chalked up 50 consecutive wins in international competitions. Her 50-win streak is an achievement that stands out throughout badminton history.
Even in her rare losses, Betty Uber had never placed in any spot lower than the runner-up position. Throughout her career, Betty Uber has always been on the podium — this is an achievement not even the GOAT Lin Dan himself could claim, even during his prime!
Betty Uber is also the only player in badminton history to play and win a “perfect game.” In one of her mixed doubles matches, she and her partner played against an in-form Danish pair. Betty Uber never lost the right to serve, scoring for every serve she made!
“Why is this impressive?” you may ask?
Remember that badminton didn’t always have a rally point scoring system. Back then, badminton followed a sideout scoring system; this system required players to serve and score to retain the right to service.
Once a player missed, nobody scored a point, and the opponent got to serve and score. Under this system, a player needed to keep scoring during service to prevent the opponent from serving and scoring a point.
For nearly all players back then and today, doing this is next to impossible — nearly all. Betty Uber, however, did it without breaking a sweat!
Betty Uber and the Uber Cup
Betty Uber is the namesake of the Uber Cup; it was the product of her ideas about a women’s team championship. This cup has since evolved to become one of the most prestigious tournaments in badminton, in which the best women’s teams from all over the world battle for badminton supremacy and the right to claim the prestigious Uber Cup trophy.
To further appreciate how and why the Uber Cup came to be, let’s get into some context. We’ll start with a snippet of the Thomas Cup’s beginnings:
The Thomas Cup
Before the Uber Cup, there were no women’s team tournaments or events. The only team events were for men. And at the time, the proving ground for men’s teams was the Thomas Cup.
The Thomas Cup is the brainchild of Sir George Thomas, its namesake — a badminton player who’d share the Hall of Fame spot with Betty Uber. Sir George Thomas came up with the idea of a men’s teams event, drawing inspiration from the Davis Cup in tennis.
As a result of his ideations, he proposed a tournament in 1939. Unfortunately, World War II broke out, so his plans for an international men’s team event had to be on the back-burner for the time being.
After the war, Sir George Thomas spearheaded the tournament in 1949. The victors of the inaugural event were the Malaysian team. At the end of the event, Sir George Thomas presented the first-ever Thomas Cup trophy to Malaysia’s team captain, Lim Chuan Geok.
Betty Uber Comes up With the Uber Cup
Following the inaugural Thomas Cup, Betty Uber envisioned a similarly-formatted tournament for women’s teams. Inspired by the success of the Thomas Cup, Betty Uber proposed the idea to the International Badminton Federation (IBF) in 1950. In 1956, Betty Uber presented the trophy as well, which she designed herself.
With the proposal and trophy getting a positive response from the IBF, the inaugural Uber Cup took place in 1957. Lytham St. Anne’s, Lancashire, was the venue of the first Uber Cup, hosting six countries. The six nations at the tournament were the United States of America, Denmark, India, Canada, Ireland, and Malaysia.
On March 18, 1957, the United States beat Denmark in the finals. Winning six to one, the United States became the first country to win the Uber Cup trophy. At the award ceremony, Betty Uber herself presented the trophy to the US team captain, Margaret Varner.
Since 1957, the Uber Cup has taken place every two years. The Uber Cup has been held concurrently with the Thomas Cup since the revision of formats in 1984.
Induction Into the Hall of Fame
The Badminton Hall of Fame took its first batch of inductees in 1996, with Betty Uber among them. The IBF recognized Betty Uber for her vast achievements and plentiful contributions to the sport.
Also inducted were Colonel S.S.C. Dolby, Herbert AE Scheele, and Sir George Thomas for his achievements and contributions.
In a League of Her Own
Badminton’s greats have always carved their legacies by outdoing their competitors. If outperforming and outdoing are the formulas for greatness, then besting Betty Uber is impossible.
During her prime, Betty Uber won countless titles consecutively. Always a mainstay on podiums, she never bagged anything less than a silver medal.
Her greatness as a badminton player doesn’t stop there. Even after her death, her name continues to be honored by every women’s team who wins the Uber Cup.
Betty Uber did more than win — she pioneered in the sport and laid the foundations for all future women’s badminton champions.
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