Identical twins from the South Bay are heading to the Olympics in Badminton

If you are having trouble telling Annie and Kerry Xu apart, you are not alone, even their competitors struggle.

"For the most part, I think we're usually like in the same, like wavelength…going in the same direction," says Annie Xu.

Her twin sister Kerry agrees, saying "It's definitely an advantage on the court also because we look very similar…. it's probably harder for the opponent to distinguish who's who and like what's their playing style."

But as they prepare to head to Paris for the 2024 Olympics, what is clear is that these identical twins should not be underestimated. The 24-year-olds will compete in badminton doubles and are the first twins to compete in a U.S. Summer Olympics team since 1996. It is a run that almost didn't happen.

"Like, I almost want to call it a semi-retirement," says Kerry, "because I feel like that's almost what it was."

The two started playing badminton when they were just 8 years old and by the time they were 12, they were winning national titles. 

Their coach, former national Indonesian player Febriyan Irvannaldy said they quickly made a name for themselves.

 "They were very good in the U.S. They were top number one, you know, from the very young," he said.

Courtesy Xu sisters

Courtesy Xu Sisters 

By the time they graduated from Leigh High School in San Jose, they were winning on the world stage, but college was also right around the corner.

Kerry says the 2017 World University games were a turning point: "We actually got a bronze medal in doubles, which is like USA’s first like medal like ever…we were kind of thinking to ourselves, 'okay, we're going to UC Berkeley and it's going to be like very rigorous.' Like we kind of don't have time exactly for training, so…let's end on like a very high note."

Courtesy Xu sisters

So, they played less and less and eventually not at all. They graduated from Cal, got jobs and but then in 2022, they started to wonder if it was too late to chase a dream.

Annie said, "We started talking about the Olympics because the Tokyo Olympics had just passed in like August, and we were like, 'is that something you still want?… Do you think it's too late?' And then we were like, 'okay, like, let's try for it.'"

They left their jobs and called their coach Harry Tan. He owns the Bay Badminton Center and has known the Xu sisters since they were 10 years old. 

He said "The Olympics is always my dream too. That's why we have the gym. So, then we say, hey, you know, let's go for it."

Getting back wasn’t easy. He said the first few months were very tough, but they didn’t give up, and over the last 18 months they fought, traveling around the globe, fighting their way back.

Courtesy Xu Sisters

And last month they qualified for the Olympics. 

"I think, like, the first emotion that we felt was obviously joy, like, really happy that we were able to pull through," says Annie, "And then the second one was like, probably relief in that, like knowing all the sacrifices that like you made for, like, worth it."

Tan says the hard work has just begun saying they are "still, a little bit distant, compared to the top, 15, in the world."  

But he says he’s always had faith in them.

And while these identical twins share a lot in common, each brings something special to the game.

Annie said, "I would probably describe myself as a very tactical player, like more gentle in the front, but like, always thinking in my head. And then I would probably describe Kerry as like a compliment."

Kerry agrees saying "I’m very kind of like more of the back player. Like, I hit a little bit harder, smash a little harder. And I place better shots. But my sister Annie, she's definitely, like, the better front player. Like, she's better in terms of strategy." 

Together they are one of the best teams in the world, an achievement that is still sinking in.

"It felt very surreal. It's like you've just, reached your dream, you know," smiles Kerry, "Well, I still feel like it's a dream." 

"So, like to be able to think that, oh, that's going to be like, we're going to be an Olympian is like mind-blowing to me," Annie said. "And like, yeah, sometimes I still can't process it."

One thing they can always count on is that they are in this together.