While badminton only becomes an official medal sport at the games of the 25th Olympiad in Barcelona in 1992, the shuttlecock which is used for the game can trace back from more than two thousand years ago. In China, shuttlecock was played as a kicking game till these days, called “Ti Jian Zhi”, as early as 5th century BC. 

What is a shuttelcock?
A shuttlecock (often abbreviated to shuttle; also called a birdie) is a high-drag projectile, with an open conical shape: the cone is formed from sixteen overlapping feathers embedded into a rounded cork base. The cork is covered with thin leather or synthetic material. A Shuttlecock shall have 16 feathers fixed in a cork base covered in kid leather. Interestingly, the best Badminton Shuttlecocks are made from feathers from the left wing of a goose.
The feathers shall be measured from the tip to the top of the base and each shuttle shall be of the same length. This length can be between 62mm and 70mm. The shuttle shall weigh between 4.74 to 5.50 grams. Shuttles are usually graded according to speed. If you have reached a certain level and can hit from baseline to baseline, use standard speed shuttlecocks. If your strength is not there yet, you can use shuttlecocks of a slightly faster speed. If you find the shuttle is too fast or too slow but you don’t have shuttles of different speed, you can try tipping the shuttlecock. Tipping the feathers of the shuttles outward will slow it down. Tipping the feathers of the shuttles inward will speed it up.

The athletes swing their rackets with explosive force, and respond with superhuman reaction times. A recent study of the physics of the sport found that shuttlecocks flip over in just 20 milliseconds after contact with the racket. A hundred milliseconds later, and the birdie is perfectly aligned to its new direction of travel.

Things are changing
In order to bring a major change in the way of conducting international badminton championship, the Badminton World Federation is undertaking a series of experiments in order to devise something more durable and cost effective option in matters of Badminton shuttles.  They are undertaking experiments with the prototype synthetic shuttlecock in a bid to replace the conventional goose feather shuttles. The new proposed shuttle if get passed the tests and scrutiny, will make the sport of shutters way far cost effective featuring more uniformity in the shuttle cocks. However, there is still time when the final outcome will decide the future of conventional feather shuttlecocks in the international level badminton matches.

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As of now, the BWF is testing the prototype synthetic shuttlecock in lower-ranked tournaments like the international series. Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei has mixed response for the new products after having been part of the trial process for the synthetic shuttles. “A few of the top players have tested this synthetic shuttlecock and I was one of them. I tested it out in Dubai two years ago (prior to the World Tour Finals),” the three-time Olympic silver medallist has told The Star. It was not consistent then. Sometimes, it felt like the traditional shuttle but at times, it was not. I wasn’t comfortable. But I’m open to the idea of using the synthetic ones if it’s constantly experimented and tested thoroughly. The players should not feel the difference that much.” The BWF has reportedly been testing the prototype synthetic shuttlecock in lower-ranked tournaments like the International Series.

The new shuttlecock are being tested – how exciting!
The BWF has reportedly been testing the prototype synthetic shuttlecock in lower-ranked tournaments like the International Series. Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaching director Wong Choong Hann said he would support the new revolution if the synthetic shuttlecock worked. “It’ll be great if it works. None of our players at the ABM (Academy Badminton Malaysia) have tested the new synthetic shuttlecock and it’ll be good to try it out in training or tournaments soon,” said Choong Hann.
Badminton Asia chief operating officer Kenny Goh applauded BWF’s pro-active initiative to improve the game. “The Asian countries are aware with the experiments done by the world body over the last few years. The world body received positive feedback as some feel like it’s close to the one we are using now,” said Kenny. “With the innovation, we don’t have to put thousands of geese in agony anymore. Currently, the main manufacturers for the shuttlecocks are from China. The change will happen if the synthetic shuttlecocks are similar to the traditional ones. It’ll be acceptable. It’s a good move – as long as the players are acceptable to it and it does not change the dynamic of the game drastically.”

Shuttlecock Speed – Making a Choice
Traditionally, manufacturers used the weight of the shuttlecock to categorize them. Most shuttlecock tubes were marked numbers from 48 to 52. So, if the shuttlecock is categorized as 50, it means its weight is 5.0 grams. But it led to several inaccuracies. Later, speed was used as a differentiating factor. The speed of the shuttlecock lets a player know how fast and far it will go. Just as colored labels are used to differentiate nylon shuttlecocks on the basis of speed, feather birdies come with numbers to help you identify its speed. Let’s learn what different numbers on the tube of feather shuttlecocks mean:

  1. 74 – Slow Speed – It is used in mountainous high-altitude regions.
  2. 75 – Slow Speed – It is ideal for very hot countries above sea level.
  3. 76 – Quite Slow Speed – You can use the shuttlecock in hotter areas
  4. 77 – Moderate Speed – Perfect for most sea-level areas
  5. 78 – Quite Fast – You should use the shuttlecocks in cold areas below sea level.
  6. 79 – Fast – You can try it for very cold countries, below sea level.

If you buy a shuttlecock with speed 77, it will land 30 cm further than a feather birdie with speed 76. Every two shuttlecocks with consecutive speeds will have a difference of 30 cm between them.

What Factors should you consider for making the Decision?
Now that you know all about the different categories of feather shuttlecocks, let’s begin on making the choice. When it comes to selecting a shuttlecock speed, it all depends on the location. You may think that if you live in a hot climate of California, you need to opt for shuttlecocks with speed 76. However, you must remember that location is not always the major factor for making a decision.

1. Air Density
The speed of a shuttlecock is dependent on the air density in the area. If the total amount of air is less in an area, it means it has lower air density. And, lower density means a shuttlecock will have no problem travelling quickly. So, if you live in a mountainous region with low air density, choose a slow speed as it will be sufficient for you.
2. Temperature
In hot weather, the speed of the shuttle is faster. And, when you are playing in a colder region, the shuttle speed is slower. If the temperature rises in a region, the air density reduces, thus making it easier for you to use a slow shuttlecock. It is for the same reason China uses 76-speed shuttlecock in summer months but it opts for a slightly faster 77-speed feather birdie in the winter months.
3. Altitude
The higher the altitude, the faster will be the shuttlecock. It is because the air density is lower compared to an area near sea level.  If you are playing on a lower ground (for example, below sea level), the speed of the feather birdie will be slower. So, you must choose according to the altitude of the area.

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