World badminton will hope a more open field and a European resurgence can inject more excitement at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and help banish memories of London’s scandal-plagued tournament where China swept all titles.
The genteel racquet sport suffered its greatest Olympic humiliation at London where four pairs in the women’s doubles were disqualified for deliberately trying to lose pool matches to secure more favourable draws in the knockout phase.
The scandal, which cast a pall over China and two other top Asian teams, prompted a change to the Games format to ensure there can be no repeat of the chaotic scenes at Wembley Arena where spectators jeered and hurled abuse as players dumped successive shots into the net.
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If it’s possible to win glory and infamy in one tournament, China managed it as they shrugged off the disqualification of their world champion women’s pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli to clinch all five gold medals.
In all, the Chinese won eight of the 15 medals on offer, six more than second-placed Denmark.
At the Riocentro venue, all of China’s singles and doubles contenders could easily grab podium places but the days of gold medal deciders fought exclusively by shuttlers in identical red shirts may be gone for good.
Nations are now limited to two entrants in each event, down from the three at London and previous Games, a move intended to increase competition.
The rule change has coincided with a European resurgence which has raised hopes of a more open tournament.
Long China’s exclusive domain, the women’s top ranking is now held by a Spaniard in world champion
Carolina Marin, while a pair of Danes in Viktor Axelsen and Jan Jorgensen round out the men’s top five.
Devoted fans will be salivating at the prospect of another Olympic showdown between Chinese champion Lin Dan and Malaysian world number one Lee Chong Wei in the men’s singles.
Lin, badminton’s answer to tennis’s Roger Federer, defeated Lee in both gold medal matches at Beijing and London but his Malaysian arch-rival has found form at the right time.