Women’s badminton saw a major power shift Thursday as Carolina Marin of Spain beat Li Xuerui, the defending Olympic champion from China, to advance to the gold medal singles match against P.V. Sindhu of India.
Marin is world No. 1 but her win is significant because China had been badminton’s superpower, sweeping all five gold medals at the 2012 London Games. Li was a big part of that dominance.
Marin won the first game of the best-of-three semifinal 21-14 then took the second 21-16. The gold medal match is Friday against Sindhu, who has made a strong, surprising run through the tournament and who overpowered Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara in the semifinals. Sindhu’s countrywoman Saina Nehwal took bronze in London but crashed out of the Rio Games early.
Li, who appeared injured at the end of her faceoff with Marin, will play Okuhara for bronze.
In Thursday’s women’s doubles gold medal match Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi of Japan beat Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl. The Japanese battled back from a late deficit in the deciding game to win the match 2-1.
On Friday perhaps the two greatest men’s badminton players of their era will meet in the singles semifinals. The meeting of China’s Lin Dan and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei is a much-awaited rematch of the last two Olympic finals, which saw Lin beat Lee for gold. The winner of the match will play either China’s Chen Long or Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.
Rio has seen many of China’s best hopes bounced early, including Wang Yihan, the women’s silver medalist in London.
China also failed in both its chances for bronze medals on Thursday.
In women’s doubles, South Korea’s Jung Kyung-eun and Shin Seung-chan beat China’s Tang Yuanting and Yu Tang. Later, in men’s doubles, Marcus Ellis and Chris Langridge of Britain took bronze over China’s Chai Biao and Hong Wei.
Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir of Indonesia won gold Wednesday in badminton mixed doubles against Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying of Malaysia. Both pairs beat previous Chinese gold and silver medalists along the way.