LONDON: China recovered from the expulsion of its top seeds in a match-throwing scandal on Saturday when Zhao Yunlei and Tian Qing won the Olympic women’s doubles, as Li Xuerui also took women’s singles gold.
Zhao and Tian beat Japanese fourth seeds Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa 21-10, 25-23 for the doubles gold, underlining their strength in depth after world number one pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli were kicked out this week.
Despite the controversy, which also involved players from South Korea and Indonesia, and drew a public apology from China’s head coach Li Yongbo, China are now on course for the first sweep of all five badminton titles.
Zhao also won the mixed doubles on Friday with her boyfriend, Zhang Nan, making her the first player to win two badminton titles at the same Olympics – an achievement that left her in floods of tears.
Later, she said the expulsions – which prompted the angry Yu’s immediate retirement – had spurred the Chinese team to win all five golds. Just the men’s singles and men’s doubles remain.
“As athletes we can’t allow ourselves to be upset, we have to focus on what we do,” she said, before being asked if the throwing scandal had motivated China.
“Yes I believe so, because the Chinese team is a great team. If it is challenged it is encouraged to turn it into something positive,” said Zhao.
Meanwhile, China’s Li stunned world number one Wang Yihan 21-15, 21-23, 21-17 to win the women’s singles title, leaving her team-mate in tears on the podium.
“Of course winning the gold medal is an exciting moment, but the glory should not be owned by myself alone but by the team,” said Li.
“Together with my team-mate, we performed quite brilliantly and gave the crowd an exciting match.”
Li was a last-minute choice in the Olympic squad over former world number one Wang Shixian, after she won the the All-England Open in March.
She was soon 12-7 and 15-8 ahead, moving better than her opponent, and reacting quicker in the flat, mid-court exchanges. Wang worked hard to get back into it and saved a match point in the second game.
The world champion went 9-5 up in the decider but Li hit back with seven points and built a four-point lead. Then, despite being pegged back to 17-17, she had the guile and variety to close it out.
Separately, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian badminton player to earn an Olympic medal when China’s world number one Wang Xin went off injured and in tears from their bronze medal play-off.
Wang was leading 21-18, 1-0 when she was forced to quit after twice collapsing to the court with a knee injury. After the second fall, she was barely able to stand.
“She was taking on water and asking for the court to be mopped and I could tell she was getting tired,” Nehwal said.
“When she sat down I thought it was all part of getting tired, but it wasn’t. And it was very sad what happened.”
In the women’s doubles, European champions Nina Vislova and Valeria Sorokina of Russia took advantage of the decimated field to win the bronze medal match 21-9, 21-10 against Alex Bruce and Michele Lee of Canada.
“We concentrated on not thinking about that match and especially not to think about why it happened,” Sorokina said. “Instead we had to concentrate on our game and on our opponents, and I think we did the right thing.”
On Sunday, China’s world number one Lin Dan will play his Malaysian rival Lee Chong Wei in the men’s final and Chinese pair Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng will play Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen in the doubles title match.
Channel News Asia