Japan’s Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi showed nerves of steel to outdo a formidable Danish pair in the women’s doubles final at the Olympics on Thursday and claim their nation’s first badminton gold medal.
The top-ranked Japanese had to fight for every point against the determined Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl and dug themselves out of a huge hole to win 18-21 21-9 21-19 in a thriller at the Riocentro.
Trailing 19-16 in the decisive game, their title hopes seemingly shot, Matsutomo and Takahashi digged deep to claim five successive points, closing out the match and crushing Denmark’s hopes of a first badminton title in 20 years.
“We thought that we would lose but we were trying to get at least one point to surprise them,” said 24-year-old Matsutomo, her eyes still shining after being mobbed by Japanese media.
“Of course we are so happy to win the gold medal but more than that we put in our best effort.
“Winning the gold medal was definitely the goal but more than that we fought until the very last moment.
“That was the greatest thing.”
Winning a furious final skirmish at the net, Matsutomo and Takahashi slumped on the court in relief, having gone one better than compatriots Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa, the London silver medallists in the event.
Unseeded veterans Pedersen and Rytter Juhl grabbed Denmark’s first medal in women’s doubles and a seventh in Olympic badminton since the sport’s debut in 1992.
But they were crushed to have let the gold slip through their fingers.
“We were not thinking that we’d already won this final,” 30-year-old Pedersen told reporters, her exhausted partner slumped in a chair.
“But of course we had our chances.
“My dream right now is to go back, play again from 19-16. But we feel that we did the best we could. We have never been so tired as we are right now.”
The Danes ended China’s 20-year dynasty in the event by knocking out the country’s world number two pair in the semi-finals. But it was the Japanese who reaped the rewards.
“We are happy that we were able to break something that the Chinese doubles (players) had been building up,” said Matsutomo.
“But the Chinese built the history until now. And we would not be here now if it wasn’t for them.”
In a major surprise, China bowed out without a medal in the event, with Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang slumping to a 21-8 21-17 loss to South Korea’s Jung Kyung-eun and Shin Seung-chan in the bronze medal playoff.