John Murray recalls some unforgettable highlights since badminton made its Olympic debut in 1992
The spotlight was shining on badminton in Barcelona in 1992 as the sport featured on the Olympic programme for the first time. Indonesia’s Susi Susanti claimed the honour of becoming badminton’s first-ever Olympic champion when she beat Bang Soo-Hyun of the Korea Republic in the final. Two hours later, her fiancé Alan Budikusuma was also celebrating, following his victory in the men’s singles. They were given a heroes’ welcome on their return home after winning the first gold medals in Indonesia’s history.
Olympic badminton competitions have been dominated by Asia. Asian countries have won 81 of the 91 medals that have been awarded, with China alone claiming 38 of them. In fact, the only time a country outside of Asia has won gold came at Atlanta in 1996 when Poul-Erik Høyer Larsen caused a major upset in the men’s singles. Wearing his lucky shoes (rumoured to be 12 years old), the 30-year-old from Denmark didn’t drop a game on his way to the gold, knocking out the defending Olympic champion and world champion in consecutive rounds before beating China’s Dong Jiong in the final.
Top of the podium
When it comes to Olympic badminton medals, Gao Ling stands above all others. The Chinese doubles specialist won her first gold medal at Sydney 2000 in the mixed doubles with Zhang Jun. The pair would repeat the feat in Athens four years later. Teaming up with Qin Yiyuan in the women’s doubles, Gao added a bronze medal to her tally in Sydney and also reached the final of that event in Athens with new partner Huang Sui. The pair lost a tight final to compatriots Zhang Jiewen and Yang Wei, but there was some consolation for Gao in that her silver medal made her the most successful Olympian in badminton history. Gao was fancied to win a fifth medal with Zheng Bo in the mixed doubles at her home Games in Beijing four years later, but the No.2 seeds crashed out in the first round.
As the most popular sport in the country behind cricket, it was only a matter of time before India made its mark on the badminton world. At London 2012, Saina Nehwal ended her country’s long wait for a badminton medal, winning bronze after her Chinese opponent Xin Wang was forced to forfeit the match through injury. Nehwal became only the second Indian woman to win an Olympic medal, and her achievement has inspired many of her countrymen and women to take up the sport.
No one who was in London’s Wembley Arena for the final of the men’s singles final will forget the moment Lin Dan won gold. At the climax of a pulsating final, the Chinese player – who is nicknamed ‘Super Dan’ – clinched a 21-19 victory over Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei after an absorbing 44-shot rally at match point. When Lee’s final shot dropped out, Lin left his racquet behind and set off on an ecstatic, open-armed victory charge around the arena, before being engulfed by his coaching team. In victory, he became the first man to successfully defend his singles title.
The Olympic badminton competition runs from Thursday, August 11 to Saturday, August 20