last Saturday afternoon in Flint, Mich., the career of perhaps the most accomplished woman athlete of the decade came to a successful and graceful close. Judy Devlin Hashman, 31, a 5'6" redhead, from Abingdon, England via Baltimore via Winnipeg, Man., chased down her last drop shot from an overwhelmed opponent, sent up her last high lob and a split-second later wristed her final backhand smash deep near her opponent's back boundary line. Then, as she accepted congratulations for her 12th U.S. singles title, she made good on her promise of a month earlier and retired from the closed world of world-class badminton.
Though a U.S. citizen by choice, her reasons for leaving the game in which she has excelled so brilliantly—and in so much obscurity—were decidedly British. "I accomplished what I set out to accomplish," she said. "This game takes a lot out of you both physically and mentally. I have nothing more to gain from it. And besides, if you've been good in a sport you don't like to play to less than your best, and I'm not willing to devote the time it would take to do that."
Considering the lack of fanfare that surrounds badminton (only 350 devotees saw the finals in Flint, though a tornado scare was partly responsible), it is likely Judy could have chosen a more direct route to fame. She was a skillful field-hockey player, was once a member of the U.S. women's national lacrosse team and the Junior Wightman Cup squad. But fortunately for badminton, she chose the shuttlecock over the tennis ball, because "I couldn't stand the thought of playing tennis 12 months of the year." Besides, she felt she had a heritage to preserve.
Her father, J. Frank Devlin, an Irishman, learned the game from a hospital bed when he was 8 years old and laid up with osteomyelitis. A family friend gave him a racket, and he spent many hours hitting the shuttlecock against the hospital wall. It drove the nurses wild but helped him pass the hours during his long convalescence. When he was able to play badminton for real he discovered he had developed a nice instinct for the game's subtleties, and by 1931 he had won six world singles championships. In 1937 Frank Devlin moved his family, which by now included (in addition to his wife, an accomplished player herself) Judy and her older sister Sue, from Canada, where Judy had been born, to Baltimore. Almost singlehandedly he turned the East Coast into a badminton power.
April 24, 1967
So it was that Judy had good reason to take up the game seriously. In 1949 she won her first of six consecutive junior championships, in 1954 her first U.S. title and in the same year her first world crown. By last Sunday her various titles in the All-England, the unofficial world championship, numbered 10, and in the U.S. championships 12. Six of the seven world women's doubles titles and 10 of her 12 U.S. doubles titles were with her sister. Said Stan Hales, the third-ranking U.S. men's player and an official of the American Badminton Association, "Something like Judy isn't likely to happen again in the history of the game." That was a common sentiment in Flint.
Judy's game is extremely unfussy, spectacular only because it is so proficient. "Daddy always thought the simplest shot for anything was the least tiring," she says, "and that there was no point in a fancy windup."
She took that philosophy with her to England in 1960, when she left Baltimore to become the wife of a good English player, George Cecil Kenneth (Dick) Hashman, who works at a British atomic-energy establishment near Abingdon, in Berkshire. Four afternoons a week, with her 2-year-old son Geoffrey in tow, Judy teaches English and geography and referees soccer games at nearby Josca's preparatory school. When Judy first moved to England and began playing in the weekend round of seasonal tournaments, she was, to say the least, unbeatable. She would go weeks at a time without losing even a point. "It was like a dream," she said. "They used to serve, hit one back and I'd make a point. They just couldn't get to anything." It was almost that bad in Flint last week. In all but her final-round match against Canadian Champion Sharon Whittaker, which she won 11-3, 11-5, it was possible to count Judy's errors on one hand. Surprisingly, the result of this overwhelming dominance was a tremendous lack of confidence. "Every time she played," said Dick Hashman, "she would think she was going to be beaten." Her legs weakened, and by her own definition she would begin to "sweat buckets."
Then once play began just the reverse would happen. "If I was playing against somebody I was really quite scared of," Judy said, "after about four or five points, I suddenly got completely calm. It's as if I wasn't even in the place."
Her residence in England had the same effect on the women's game there that the Malayan Choong brothers, Eddie and David, had on the men's game a decade earlier, when they were in London for graduate study at Cambridge; it raised the level to world class. The surprising thing, of course, is that badminton needed any prodding in England at all, because that is where the game began in 1873 at a house party in Badminton, the seat of the Duke of Beaufort in Gloucestershire. In a sense, it has never really shrugged off its aristocratic image, mostly by choice, so that today it is still possible to find players who say, "We don't have people who drop their aitches," and, "If we had someone who grew his hair long, I think we'd die of shame." Players tend to take great pride in the amateur nature of the game. To start a doubles match, the referee calls: "The score is love-love, second server." In Flint there was a recurring dispute over the sling, or double hit, which had all the characteristics of a classic dispute between traditional and mod. As one official explained, "The purists still don't believe any wood should be used on a shot, and it is sometimes terribly difficult to tell the difference between a double hit, which is illegal, and a wood shot, which is not. So, many of the older referees tend to disallow all wood shots—period."
This, for one, incensed Erland Kops, the bearded Dane who won his third U.S. men's singles title. In an early-round match with an elderly referee in the chair, Kops was called for slinging no less than six times. "No sling," he kept muttering. "Wood shot. Wood shot." In the finals, with a young referee, there were no such calls.
Mrs. Hashman, of course, was too overpowering to be bothered by such technicalities. At 31, she could undoubtedly continue to play world-class badminton for several more years, if she chose. But the demands of a family make the extreme concentration so essential to the game more and more of a chore.
And so, last Saturday it was all over. After the mixed-doubles final, her third championship of the day, she accepted her last pieces of silver, put on her blue badminton blazer and took a towel and wiped back her Irish red hair. Geoffrey got loose from his baby-sitter for the afternoon, Grandmother Devlin, and toddled over and began playing with mommy's rackets and birds.
Judy permitted herself her first real smile of the week. She looked down and said, "No, no Geoffrey. No more shuttlecocks. No more shuttlecocks."