In my opinion, a badminton player earns the title of “legend” by chalking up at least one of three achievements. First, the player could have won various international championships. Second, they could have been “the player to beat” at some point. Last, but surely not least, the player could have had a long unbeaten run — which, for me, says a lot about a player’s consistency. David G. Freeman goes above and beyond by ticking all of these boxes, especially the third!
David G. Freeman was a legend in the early days of badminton for his explosiveness and reaction time on the court. He’s the first American badminton player to have won the Danish Open and the prestigious All-England. David G. Freeman was also a multiple-time U.S. Champion and an active competitor in many racket sports, including squash, tennis, and table tennis. David G. Freeman was also the holder of one of the longest undefeated streaks in the early days of badminton: from 1939 – 1953, David G. Freeman never lost a singles match! His consistency and unparalleled speed on the court earned him the moniker “the Pasadena Flash.” David G. Freeman retired from international competition in 1953 and joined the Badminton Hall of Fame as the sole American inductee. Unfortunately, he later passed away in hospice care in 2001 due to sickle cell carcinoma.
David G. Freeman will forever live on in the American players he has inspired. In this installment of player profiles, I shine a well-deserved spotlight on the man who put American badminton on the map: David G. Freeman!
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Life Before Badminton
David G. Freeman was born on September 6, 1920 in Pasadena, California. His father was a popular Presbyterian minister in their community and his mother was a religious studies professor at Occidental College.
Growing up in Pasadena, the young David G. Freeman was active. At an early age, he played various racket sports to channel his energy and focus. Among his favorites were table tennis, squash, and lawn tennis.
David G. Freeman displayed promising skills in table tennis and squash. When he turned 13, he had already amassed various national titles in both sports, even ranking first in the country.
As he entered middle school, he began playing more tennis and also tasted success in the sport. And like most up-and-coming greats with rare attributes, it wasn’t long before badminton found him.
David G. Freeman learned about badminton after a friend introduced him to the sport. He quickly found that he was a natural. In fact, a New York Times article described the young Freeman’s movements on the court as “dart-like.”
Between his teenage years and his graduation from high school, David G. Freeman developed his fast-paced playing style — often at the expense of his opponents. By the time Freeman graduated, he had already won numerous badminton tournaments.
In 1938, David G. Freeman graduated from high school and attended Pomona College. There, he added cross-country skiing and golf to his list of athletic pursuits. Despite playing many sports, he always found his way back to the racket.
1938 — The Start of an Undefeated Badminton Run
David G. Freeman was balancing multiple racket sports in 1938, competing at the highest levels in tennis while nurturing his budding badminton career.
In 1938, he competed in the U.S. Junior Tennis Championships, where he played in the men’s singles and doubles events.
In the men’s singles event, David G. Freeman advanced to the finals to face Welby Van Horn. Freeman defeated his opponent, winning the U.S. Junior Tennis Championships.
A year after his win at the U.S Junior Tennis Championships, David G. Freeman set his sights on another target: the 1939 U.S. National Badminton Championships. Here, David G. Freeman made his debut as a senior badminton player.
In his first outing, he dominated the men’s singles event, winning his first major badminton title. During the competition, David G. Freeman stunned his opponents with his unmatched reaction time, quickness, and precision with his shots — and thus, the Pasadena Flash was born.
David G. Freeman’s Dominance of the U.S National Badminton Championship
David G. Freeman returned the following year to defend his men’s singles title. The 1940 U.S. Championship was a notable tournament for the up-and-coming Freeman as he competed in all events.
Freeman won the men’s singles event, successfully defending his title. However, his haul of medals didn’t end there — he went on to capture gold in the men’s and mixed doubles events, too.
With a hat-trick medal haul at the 1940 U.S. Championship, Freeman’s ambitions grew larger. He sought to defend his titles at the 1941 U.S. Open.
In the 1941 and 1942 U.S. Championships, David G. Freeman successfully defended all three of his titles, successfully pulling three hat-tricks in a row.
By 1943, David G. Freeman was already mid-way into his medical studies at Harvard University. Due to his academic workload, he placed his badminton career on hold for a while.
He did, however, take his skills to the grass courts of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. At the 1943 U.S. Open Tennis Championships, he bagged an impressive runner-up finish with Bill Talbert despite losing to Jack Kramer and Frank Parker.
David G. Freeman graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1945. After graduation, Freeman practiced for two years as a surgeon for the Army Medical Corps.
David G. Freeman returned to active competition in 1947 at the U.S. Championship, where he competed in the men’s singles and doubles events. Despite his hiatus, David G. Freeman never lost his touch — he captured titles in both events!
The Pasadena Flash returned in the 1948 U.S. Championship to defend his men’s singles and doubles titles. As with his past appearances, he dominated the tournament, defending both titles against skilled opponents.
All in all, David G. Freeman never lost a match at the U.S. Championship. All that punctuated his badminton run was his stint as a physician — but never defeat.
And no, that loss in the finals of the 1943 U.S. Open Tennis Championship doesn’t count!
1949 — Notable Performances Abroad
No legendary badminton career would be complete without at least one international title victory. In 1949, David G. Freeman took his impeccable badminton skills abroad to test them against the best in Europe.
The 1949 All-England
Freeman kicked off his European campaign at the 1949 All-England Open Badminton Championships. He competed in the men’s singles event, facing his compatriot Wynn Rogers in the second round.
In straight sets, Freeman made short work of his fellow American to advance to the third round. Awaiting him was India’s Henry Ferreira. With his signature blitzkrieg of movements, Freeman showed his opponent no corner and dominated the match.
David G. Freeman then advanced to the quarterfinals to face Denmark’s Olle Wahlberg. Freeman pulled out all the stops and won the match 15 – 2 in both sets.
The semifinal match was between Malaya’s Wong Peng Soon and the in-form David G. Freeman. As in his previous matches, Freeman dominated the match, beating Wong Peng Soon in straight sets.
Freeman advanced to the finals. Standing between him and the All-England title was the legendary Malaya player, Ooi Teik Hock. David G. Freeman quickly defeated him, making the Pasadena Flash an All-England champion — and the only American one, at that!
1949 Thomas Cup Finals
David G. Freeman competed at the 1949 Thomas Cup as the captain of the U.S. badminton team. He was also the U.S. team’s main competitor for the men’s singles event.
Although the U.S. failed to secure the Thomas Cup, David G. Freeman had an impressive showing at the event. Freeman defeated his opponents from Denmark and the eventual tournament victors, Malaya.
The 1949 Danish Open
David G. Freeman also played in the men’s singles event of the 1949 Danish Open. There, the Pasadena Flash dominated the tournament.
The victory didn’t only make David G. Freeman a Danish Open titleholder — it also made him the first American-born winner of this prestigious tournament!
1953: The Pasadena Flash Going out on Top
Most badminton legends foreshadow the twilight of their careers with dips in their performances on the court, but not David G. Freeman!
After taking time off after his European campaign, David G. Freeman competed in several other tournaments, including the Toronto Invitational. At the 1953 Toronto Invitational, he treated spectators to his signature agility and quickness. He won the tournament and set his sights on his favorite hunting ground — the U.S. National Badminton Championships.
At the 1953 U.S Championships, Freeman competed solely in the men’s singles event. Winning dominantly, David G. Freeman bagged his 15th U.S. Championship title.
After the euphoria of the U.S Championship, David G. Freeman retired. The victory was the swan song to a career that remained untarnished by loss. David G. Freeman retired from badminton basically undefeated — a feat even the best of today may not be able to achieve.
“Badminton Was Made for Me”
It’s no secret that the Pasadena Flash played other racket sports, but one would have to wonder what it was about badminton that allowed this legend to excel so dramatically.
An article by the San Diego Badminton Club may hold the answer.
According to David G. Freeman, badminton was “made for him.” The sport allowed him to play on a smaller court where his lack of running speed wouldn’t be a limiting factor, and its side-out scoring system favored his quickness and shot precision. It’s no wonder why his wins were always by such large margins.
Retirement, Life Beyond Badminton, and Passing
After announcing his retirement, the Pasadena Flash turned his attention to his family and medical career. He had three children with his wife, Dolly Rees. The family moved to San Diego, where David G. Freeman specialized in neurosurgery.
Despite retiring from badminton, David G. Freeman remained active. He played tennis and badminton recreationally, and even added horseback riding to his list of hobbies.
In 1956, David G. Freeman joined the U.S. Badminton Hall of Fame for his achievements in the sport. Because of his stellar record, Freeman also became the first American inductee into the World Badminton Hall of Fame in 1997.
His contributions to American badminton also led to an annual tournament being held in his name. The Dave Freeman Open Badminton Classic takes place each year in San Diego. From its inaugural edition in 1958 until the late 90s, the Pasadena Flash himself graced fans and competitors at the tournament with his presence, presenting the trophy to tournament winners.
After a long and successful life, Dave Freeman passed away at age 80 on June 28, 2001, from sickle cell carcinoma.
A Flash in the Pan
David G. Freeman’s achievements in badminton remain unparalleled. In addition to his undefeated record in the U.S. Championships, his success in Europe also makes him deserving of his place among the greats.
Only time will tell if any player today can match or even outdo what the Pasadena Flash has accomplished. However, one thing is for sure:
What David G. Freeman accomplished may be unrepeatable for a long time.
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