Rio 2016 podiums reflect badminton’s global appeal
The Rio 2016 badminton competition produced medallists from ten countries, with four of the five newly crowned Olympic champions hailing from four different nations, a sign of the sport’s spread across the globe. Taking the respective honours in the men’s and women’s singles events were Carolina Marin of Spain and Chen Long of China.
Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir became badminton’s first gold medallists of Rio 2016 when they beat Malaysia’s Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying 21-14, 21-12 in the final. Having overcome reigning champions and world No1s Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei of China in the semis, the Indonesian pair capitalised on their opponent’s errors and produced some quality play of their own to go one better than the silver they won at Beijing 2008. The bronze went to China’s Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, who defeated compatriots and London 2012 runners-up Xu Chen and Ma Jin 21-7, 21-11.
Paying tribute to their vociferous fans at Riocentro Pavilion 4, a delighted Ahmad said: “The supporters were amazing because today is also Indonesia's independence day, so this is our gift to Indonesia.” Playing partner Natsir added that their victory made up for the disappointment of London four years earlier, when her country failed to win a badminton gold: “I feel relieved, proud and happy. This is payback for London because Indonesia has always won gold medals in badminton but we didn't then.”
Japanese duo on top in women’s doubles
Pushed all the way by Danish pair Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl, Japan’s world No1s Misaki Matsumoto and Ayaka Takahashi summoned up all their reserves of skill and determination to win a gripping three-set women’s doubles final. Trailing 19-16 in the third and final set, Matsumoto and Takahashi reeled of five consecutive points to complete a thrilling 18-21, 21-9, 21-19 victory and clinch their country’s maiden Olympic badminton title. In doing so, they quashed Danish hopes of landing a first gold in the sport in 20 years.
“In the first game I couldn’t perform very well, but in the second and third games we thought that this was going to be our last match, so whether we win or lose we needed to put all our effort in,” said Matsutomo. “In the end all the practice and effort we have put in has paid off.”
Pedersen and Rytter Juhl’s silver was only Denmark’s second-ever Olympic women’s badminton medal, after Camilla Martin’s silver in the singles at Sydney 2000, though that was scant consolation for the pair. “Of course we’re really, really proud that we have won this Olympic medal,” said Pedersen. “But after a match like this and being so close in the third and deciding set, you have to be disappointed.”
Jung Kyungeun and Shin Seungchan of the Republic of Korea won a surprise bronze with a straight-sets victory over No2 seeds Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang of China, who fell to the Danish pair in the semi-finals.
Peerless Marin scores a first for Spanish badminton
The world’s top-ranked player and reigning two-time world champion, Carolina Marin of Spain added another title to her increasingly long list of career honours by becoming the first non-Asian player to win the Olympic women’s singles crown. In the process she also became only the second European to win a singles gold medal, after Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen of Denmark, who took the men’s title at Atlanta 1996.
Victorious in three sets against world No10 Pusarla Sindhu of India, the 23-year-old Spaniard showed the same outstanding form that has made her virtually unbeatable since bursting on to the global scene in 2014. In beating defending champion Li Xuerui of China in the semi-finals, Marin ensured that the gold would not be won by a far-eastern or southeast Asian player for the first time since the inclusion of the sport on the Olympic programme at Barcelona 1992. “I’m very excited, I don’t know how I’m feeling now, but it is amazing that my dream has come true. I just had to believe in myself,” said Marin. “It is more than a medal because of everything behind it. I have the best team behind me. They helped me a lot and were amazing.”
Facing her stiffest test of the competition, the Spaniard came back from losing the first set to win the second with a superb smash down the line. Resisting everything Sindhu had to throw at her, Marin then took control of the deciding set. Earning herself six match points, she took the second of them to clinch victory, which she greeted by screaming with joy and raising a triumphant clenched fist to her supporters in the crowd.
Urged on by her own band of fans, Sindhu could take satisfaction from becoming only the second Indian woman to win a badminton medal, after Saina Nehwal, who took bronze in the singles at London 2012. “I am really happy,” said the Hyderabadi player. “My ultimate aim and goal was to get a medal at the Olympics. I thought it would be a gold, but never mind: it became a silver. I never thought I would make it here, but it’s been a wonderful week for me overall. I am really happy. I did not expect I would play this brilliantly this week.”
Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara won the bronze in a walkover after defending champion Li Xuerui of China was forced to pull out of their medal play-off with injury.
Fu and Zhang take men’s doubles gold
Haifeng Fu and Nan Zhang saw off Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong in the men’s doubles final to land China’s first badminton gold of Rio 2016. Saving two match points in a heartstopping third set, the Chinese pair then converted one of their own to seal a dramatic 23-21 victory, giving Fu a second gold in the event to go with the one he collected with Cai Yun in London four years ago. Zhang’s gold was also the second of his Olympic career, the first having come in the mixed doubles at London 2012.
Sharing his views after match, a visibly relieved Fu said: “I think we were under a lot of pressure playing this match. The Chinese mixed doubles team, women’s singles team, and women doubles teams all lost, and men’s doubles is an event that has not received a lot of attention, but we triumphed all the same. We won the first gold medal for the Chinese badminton team at this Olympic Games so we are excited. It was not an easy game. I want to thank my partner.”
Great Britain’s Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge won the bronze, defeating China’s Chai Biao and Hong Wei 21-18, 19-21, 21-10.
Men’s singles gold for Chen, third silver for Lee
The men’s singles final was contested by two-time world champion Chen Long of China and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who was appearing in his third consecutive Olympic final. It was the Chinese player who prevailed, recording a 21-18, 21-18 win to leave current World No1 Lee clutching silver for the third time in a row.
Second best to China’s Lin Dan in the finals at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, and four times a beaten world finalist, the Malaysian was entitled to feel his hoodoo would be broken when he knocked Lin out in the semi-finals. Waiting for him in the final, however, was Chen, the man who beat him in two of those world finals and who won bronze at London 2012. The slender Chinese player turned in a majestic display, withstanding the pressure exerted by his opponent and piercing his defence at crucial times. “I never imagined winning an Olympic gold medal would be like this,” said the new Olympic champion, who celebrated victory by throwing his racquet and shirt to his fans in the crowd.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to get over the line and win the title,” added the new champion. “It was a pretty epic match, there were only two games but they lasted over 70 minutes. I believe both of us spared no efforts.” Unable to produce his very best badminton, the 33-year-old Lee, who topped the world rankings for 199 weeks in a row between 2008 and 2012, said: “It doesn’t matter. I just have to accept it. I didn’t play well enough. Anyone will tell you that losing hurts, and I can certainly confirm that. It’s my third silver medal in three Olympics.”
Lee had his chances, taking a 13-9 lead in the first set and an 8-5 advantage in the second. Unable to build on either position due to Chen’s superlative defence, the Malaysian eventually found himself four match points down. Battling to the end, he saved two of them, but surrendered on the third with a desperate smash that sailed just wide. Chen’s gold was China’s second of the Rio 2016 badminton competition. Though more than any other nation, that haul was still well short of the unprecedented clean sweep the Chinese achieved at London 2012.World No4 Viktor Axelsen of Denmark edged defending champion Lin 15-21 21-10 21-17 in the play-off for bronze, denying the Chinese great a medal in his final Games.