The London Olympics are just days away, the realisation that four years have passed since Lin Dan’s masterclass in Beijing and that five champions will be crowned – before it all ends for another four years come August 5.
All the favourites are present this year, Lee Chong Wei has recovered from his ankle injury but to what extent remains unclear. His first match will be against Finland’s Ville Lang, a EBU tour veteran whose physical approach to the game will be a intriguing test for the Malaysian and his ankle. Lin Dan takes on Scott Evans, with the Irishman making it into the Olympics from second reserve to be the first hurdle in Lin Dan’s defence of the title. A last 16 clash with Taufik Hidayat potentially awaits, as the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champions face one another in 2012.
Peter Gade starts his campaign against Portugal’s Pedro Martins, but matches with Shon Wan Ho and Chen Long await on his path to the semi final stage and any chance of a medal. British hopes lie in the hands of Rajiv Ouseph, who takes on the European silver medalist Henri Hurskainen and world championship quarter finalist Kevin Cordon – with the group winner taking on Sho Sasaki unless one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Olympics and Virgil Soeroredjo sensationally defeats the 6th seeded Sasaki.
Michelle Li will be the top seeded Wang Yihan’s opening round match, with the Canadian meeting the top seed in both her events at the Olympics. Wang Xin takes on the USA’s Rena Wang whilst Li Xuerui has to take on both Carolina Marin and Claudia Rivero to ensure her place in the last 16. Saina Nehwal’s quarter of the draw is laden with Europeans, with no less than 14 of the 16 players coming from European – headlined by the 5th seeded Tine Baun, Saina Nehwal’s likely quarter final opponent. Susan Egelstaff couldn’t have hand picked a better group, with Britain’s sole entry taking on the 12th seeded Sayaka Sato and Slovenia’s Maja Tvrdy, both of which she has a superior head to head against.
Perhaps the toughest groups of the Olympics is in the men’s doubles, with Lee and Chung of Korea taking on the 2005 world championships Bach and Gunawan, as well as the Japanese pair of Sato and Kawamae then finally Koo and Tan of Malaysia. Another intriguing group features the 4th seeded Ko and Yoo, who take on Issara and Jongjit of Thailand, a pair they have never beaten, as well as Poland’s Cwalina and Logosz before the hardest of their group matches against Ahsan and Septano.
The women’s doubles groups have varying degrees of difficulty, with Ha and Kim as well as Jauhari and Polii receiving a fortunate group featuring the African and Oceania entries for the Olympics. Whilst Group D has three pairs inside of the top 10, with Tian and Zhao, Maeda and Suetsuna as well as Rytter Juhl and Pedersen all battling for one spot. Not to mention the Singapore pair of Tse and Poon who have excellent records against all the pairs except the Chinese 2nd seeds in their group.
As if the script wasn’t written for this, Zhang and Zhao will take on Adcock and Bankier inside Wembley Arena once more. Both were put into Group A with Fuchs and Michels of Germany and Nikolaenko and Sorokina of Russia with the Brits being favoured to claim at least one of the qualification spots on offer. Group C is without a doubt the “group of death” at this year’s Olympics. With three of the top 9 pairs in the world in the same group, with the 4th pair being ranked 13th. Ahsan and Natsir, Laybourn and Rytter Juhl as well as Lee and Ha will have to fight for two places, with the Indian pair of V and Gutta undoubtably going to have some say in the final standings of this group also.
The all-conquering partnership of Wang and Yu are one of the favourites for a Chinese medal in just over 2 weeks time but as dominant as their 2012 season has been, there have been someone unlikely results to give the rest of the field hope going into the Olympics.
Their partnership begun in 2010 after Wang Xiaoli, then partnered with Ma Jin and also playing mixed doubles with Tao Jiaming. Wang Xiaoli reached the World Championship Women’s Doubles final in Paris that year, only to be defeated by Du and Yu in a one-sided final. Yu Yang was already an Olympic champion in women’s doubles with Du Jing but after the 2010 World Championships, the decision was made to pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli together, with Wang Xiaoli also dropping the mixed doubles event to focus solely on women’s doubles.
For a 52-week period, Wang and Yu did not lose a match that they completed. Their retirement in the final of the China Masters to Huan and Tang was the only time they took to a court and were defeated. They dominated at the 2011 World Championships without the loss of a game but their 2012 season started with disaster in Korea with a shock defeat to Korea’s Ha and Kim, followed two months later with their second defeat in a Super Series Premier final to their perennial rivals, Tian and Zhao.
Their Chinese counterparts are the closest that the world number 1 pairing have to a rivalry at the moment, with nearly all of their 10 meetings coming in finals. Tian and Zhao are the only pair to have defeated Wang and Yu on two separate occasions and most noticeably the only pair that is a genuine threat to the gold medal hopes of the world number 1 pairing.
However in their most recent encounters, Wang and Yu gained revenge for their defeats earlier in the year to both the Korean pair of Ha and Kim as well as team-mates Tian and Zhao to enter the Olympics as the undoubted favourites for the gold medal.
Just How Good Are Wang and Yu?
The partnership has been together for 98 official matches, winning 93 of them. One of those five defeats is their retirement in China and another came very early into the partnership but was another retirement to Goh and Chin of Malaysia. They have been beaten just three times in around two years and by only two pairs, the world number 2 pair of Tian and Zhao have two victories whilst the world number 3 pair of Ha and Kim have claimed the only other victory.
Can These Two Pairs Beat Wang and Yu Again?
Both the head to head records would suggest otherwise, with Ha and Kim’s 1-7 record against the world number pairing and claiming just four games in those eight encounters and heir victory was in Korea in front of a partizan crowd. Tian and Zhao’s 2-8 record is somewhat deceiving, their two most recent encounters have resulted in a victory for Tian and Zhao and a tight three game victory for Wang and Yu. Four of their encounters have gone to extra points in the opening game that had Tian and Zhao won could have changed the complexity of the match completely.
The name might be different, but this is the same pair of players that regained the world number 1 spot for the first time in two years. The name change is a request from the Korean Association to change Jung Jae Sung to the name that is on his passport of Chung Jae Sung. The current world number 1 and All England champions partnership is likely to end after the Olympics after 6 years, with Chung Jae Jung being left out of the Thomas Cup team signaling the beginning of the end.
Their partnership has enjoyed countless achievements but on the greatest stage, they have been second best to the pairing of Cai and Fu. Losses in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships to the Chinese pair as well as a 2007 defeat to Kido and Setiawan has robbed them of a world title. Lee Yong Dae has already experienced Olympic success in the mixed doubles in 2008 and will have two more chances at Olympic success after qualifying for the mixed doubles also. For Chung Jae Jung however, this will probably be his final chance at Olympic success. He will turn 30 a few weeks after the Olympics and will Lee Yong Dae already experimenting with new partnerships, this will likely be the last appearance of Chung Jae Jung at the Olympics and probably alongside Lee Yong Dae also.
A 22nd and final matchup with Cai and Fu will ultimately define their rivalry with the Chinese pairing, a victory would almost ensure Olympic gold as well as a 12-10 head to head record, whilst a defeat would ensure they would be the best pairing of this generation never to win a World or Olympic title and tie their 22-game series at 11-11 as well as Cai and Fu’s first Olympic gold.
Who Are The Potential Threats?
Apart from the obvious Cai and Fu threat, there is competition from within the Korean squad in Ko and Yoo who have a 4-4 head to head against the current world number 1 as well as a victory in their most recent encounter in Korea last year. Chai and Guo of China also hold a 2-1 head to head advantage over the Korean pair, including a two game victory in the Super Series finals at the end of 2011.
Are They Favourites For Gold?
Cai and Fu still have the edge when it comes to the matches at the major competitions which includes a two game defeat to the Chinese pair in the same arena at the World Championships a year previously. They are one of the favourites for the title and will almost definitely win a medal in under a months time.
How Important Is This Olympics For Their Legacy?
Nothing short of a victory is needing to cement their legacy as one of the best pairings of this generation. Without a World or Olympic title, they will enter a category of greatest pairs never to win a major title. A victory over Cai and Fu is perhaps also need to validate any argument about which one of the pairs is the best of the past 6 years. A loss to Cai and Fu would be catastrophic, perhaps more for Chung Jae Jung than Lee Yong Dae, who at 23 will have at least one more Olympics in Rio four years from now. The head to head would be 11-11 with a defeat, with Cai and Fu claiming four world and probably an Olympic title in the process.
This is an amendment after the Chinese Squad chose Li Xuerui over Wang Shixian
The form player in the Chinese squad received the 3rd selection of the Chinese squad over Wang Shixian this week, after catapulting herself into the top 4 with a stunning run of results in 2012. The current Asian and All England Champion selection immediately makes her into the favourite for the women’s singles, with three victories over the current world number 1 Wang Yihan in this Olympic year.
Her head to head over her Chinese team mates is deceiving, Wang Yihan leads 4-3 but has failed to claim a victory in their last three matches whilst Wang Xin has a 5-0 advantage, with their last meeting being almost 9 months ago where Li Xuerui had a match point in the third game.
How Far Can Li Xuerui Go?
Her record over the non-Chinese players is far superior, which dents Saina Nehwal’s hope for a medal whilst Li Xuerui is almost certain to breeze into the later stages. A potential final or semi final against her Chinese team mates will not fear the 21-year old, whose own expectations should be nothing short of a gold medal.
China’s hope to retain all 5 golds won in Beijing resulted in a full compliment of players qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, but the women’s singles is the strongest showing from the Chinese. The world number 1, 2 and 3 all qualified for the Olympics as well as having three more players inside the top 16 to show their strength in numbers within this event.
Wang Yihan goes into the Olympics as the world number 1 after resurrecting a career that saw the Chinese squad demand that she proof herself after the 2010 Uber Cup defeat to Korea. She won the Malaysia Open earlier in this year before a series of surprise losses to her Chinese team-mates again asked the question if she was the best player within the Chinese squad.
Wang Xin and Wang Shixian are China’s more than adaquate back-up plan should Wang Yihan fail to reach the gold medal match. The world number 2 and 3 at the end of qualification have also had a poor year given the high Chinese standards, with Wang Shixian claiming the only title between the two players.
Li Xuerui put in a late surge to the world number 4 spot and was also the form player within the Chinese squad, winning the Asian Championships and the All England title in her run to the world number 4 spot. Has she been selected, she would have been the favourite for the gold medal in London.
What Are Wang Yihan’s Chances Of Gold?
Her recent run of defeats have mostly came against Li Xuerui, with all three of her defeats in 2012 coming against matches with Li Xuerui. Her head to head against her Chinese rivals picked for the Olympics is more pleasing statistic with a 8-2 advantage over Wang Xin and 5-2 advantage against Wang Shixian. Her record against Schenk and Nehwal is even more one-sided (6-1 against Schenk, 5-0 over Nehwal) and you have to go back to October last year for Wang Yihan’s last defeat from a non-Chinese player, losing in two games to Tai Tzu Ying.
What Are Wang Xin’s Likely Expectations?
The Chinese team are very willing to give walkovers or “rigged” matches towards one of their players to ensure progression into the next round and in all likelyhood, the gold medal is Wang Yihan’s to lose. Wang Xin’s is probably looking at a silver medal at best. Her record against the best players in the world is superb, with a winning record over most of her rivals including Wang Shixian who is likely going to be her semi final opponent.
Can Wang Shixian Justify Her Selection With A Medal?
Wang Shixian has dropped to 4 in the rankings, with rumours of Li Xuerui being selected instead of her circlating at the Uber Cup finals. Her sole victory in the event seemed to be enough to get her the nod ahead of Li Xuerui. A few stats stand out that question whether Wang Shixian can claim a medal, the first being her record against Saina Nehwal which stands at 3-1 in favour of the Indian. The other head to head with will cause concern is against Tine Baun, that stands at 2-2 with the Dane taking their most recent encounter. Her hopes of a medal are interconnected with Nehwal, with the Indian hoping to play Wang Shixian in the last 8 whilst the Chinese player would look to avoid Nehwal to reach the semi finals.
The hope of India lies in just one player, as 1.2 billion people will support Saina Nehwal in her quest for a gold medal in London. She has thrived in the pressure situations, winning a Commonwealth gold medal on hope soil two years ago and a junior world championship in 2008 as well as reaching the final in 2006 at just 16.
Her previous venture at the Olympics saw her reach the quarter finals, as a relative unknown in the badminton world. At that time she was Junior World Champion and reached the last 8 before a loss to eventual bronze medalist Maria Kristin Yulianti. At 22, she will arrive in London as the Commonwealth champion and already an experience at the Olympics from Beijing four years previously.
She will enter the 2012 Olympics as the form player in the world, winning the Super Series Premier event in Indonesia and Thailand Open title in her final two events before the Olympics.
Can She Defeat The Chinese?
Her record against Wang Yihan and Wang Xin (ranked 1 and 2 in the world) is undoubtably poor. She has never defeated Wang Yihan in five occasions, despite a match point in Indonesia last year. Her record against Wang Xin is a deceptive 4-2 in favour of the Chinese player, but both of Nehwal’s victories have came in their three most recent meetings. Her record against the third Chinese player selected for London, Wang Shixian is 3-1 in favour of the Indian, with Wang Shixian’s sole victory coming almost two years ago in the 2010 World’s in Paris. Due to her seeding in London of 4, she will not meet a Chinese player until the semi final stages in all likelihood.
Can She Defeat The Europeans?
A likely quarter final against Juliane Schenk or Tine Baun will await Saina Nehwal, for which the Indian has a relatively good record against both. She has a 5-3 head to head against Schenk, with the German taking their last encounter in Japan last year in two games. Schenk is also in excellent form, taking the Singapore Open title last month. Tine Baun has won three of their six encounters, with Nehwal taking the two most recent encounters in tight matches. A quarter final against Baun would be preferable to Schenk.
Can She Win Gold?
A favourable draw would be needed, avoiding Schenk in the quarter finals would be a boost with the Indian having a good record against other potential quarter final opponents (Inthanon Ratchanok, Cheng Shao Chieh and Sung Ji Hyun) and a semi final draw against Wang Xin or Wang Shixian would be desirable. The biggest question is if she can beat Wang Yihan, which is entirely possible with the world number 1′s erratic form this year. Losses to Li Xuerui on three separate occasions as well as Jiang Yanjiao will fuel the 22-year olds belief that she can win Olympic gold.
Enigmatic, Controversial, Genius, Shocking, Greatest Ever. Words that surround the career of the Chinese superstar and current Olympic champion Lin Dan and divide fans like no other player in badminton. At just 28, he has won every major honour that his discipline can offer him several times over, all that remains is a second Olympic gold to cement his place as the greatest ever player.
On the court, there is nothing quite like Lin Dan in full stride. His victory over his rival Lee Chong Wei in Beijing four years ago was perhaps the single greatest performance we’d ever seen on a badminton court but there is the other side to Lin Dan, the arrogant and petulant side that divides fans of the sport.
An incident in the 2008 Korean Open final that resulted in Lin Dan going match point down after a poor line call resulted in an altercation between the coaches and Lin Dan having to be restrained by BWF officials. His outburst and then assault of the Chinese coach Ji Xinpeng just three months before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 had fans and critics alike demanding that he be withdrawn from the Thomas Cup team and then he shouldn’t participate in the 2008 Games at all.
Few people question his ability on the badminton court, already a 4-time world champion at just 28 years old and talk of retirement should he claim his second gold medal in London has quietened over recent months but the possibility looms that “Super Dan” might have his final swansong in Wembley Arena.
Would A Gold Cement His Legacy?
Nobody has ever defended an Olympic gold in the men’s singles, just like nobody has had as much success as Lin Dan within the sport. A gold medal cements his place as the greatest player of this generation. The critics will claim that Lee Chong Wei has been just as successful, but the lack of world and Olympic titles tilts the argument to Lin Dan, even more so with a second gold in London
Can Anyone Stop Lin Dan?
The biggest question going into the men’s singles is Lee Chong Wei and his ankle injury. A 100% fit Lee Chong Wei would have been a genuine contender for the gold medal but it is unknown as to what standard of fitness and confidence Lee Chong Wei has in his ankle or in his Olympic hopes. Even then Lin Dan holds a 19-9 record over Lee Chong Wei going into the Olympics, winning four of their last five meetings.
Will This Be Lin Dan’s Final Tournament?
Lin Dan himself has denied that he plans to retire as recently as 3 weeks ago but this is almost certainly his final Olympics. His playing schedule has slowly decreased over the past few years, just as his list of withdrawals and retirements has increased also. He has promised another year after the Olympics, which means that there is life after the Olympics for one of the greatest rivalries within the game.
In about a months time, the career of Peter Gade will end on the Olympic stage in London. Gone are the days of a spikey blonde haired man oozing with arrogance claiming the world number 1 spot at just 21, replaced with a 35-year old man with all the deceptive skills that the Dane claimed title after title with in the early parts of the 2000′s, but missing that explosion and a body slowly betraying him.
His legacy has shaped European badminton, an ambassador both on and off the court as well as a role model to countless players of this generation. His technique is idolized in his home nation, where he has claimed his national title on no less than 10 occasions. A European champion on five different occasions as well as an All-England Champion in 1999 but like Lee Chong Wei, there is a lack of a World or Olympic gold medal in his career, only a World Championship silver in 2001 in Seville.
2012 has seen a significant drop off in his results, something that Gade himself has admitted that he was struggling with an ankle injury and trying to find an extra 10-15% to push him back to the top of the game. He has played just 16 matches in the past few months, losing 7 of those 16. Losses to Shon Wan Ho, Du Pengyu, Lee Hyun Il and most noticeably Henri Hurskainen at the European Championships has fueled the belief that there is nothing left in the tank.
Is Gade Europe’s Best Chance?
Even with all of his recent losses, he is still Europe’s top ranked player. The likes of Jorgensen, Zwiebler and Ouseph simply don’t have the experience of a Gade at this level. Dispite his recent poor run of form, Gade is still competitive. His losses to Kuncoro and Lee Hyun Il were in three games and his loss in the All England was one of the most farcical moments in recent badminton history after being put on court at 1am due to a scheduling disaster.
Can He Beat Lin Dan or Lee Chong Wei?
Gade would have to roll back the years in order to consider beating Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. His record against both is poor (Lin Dan leads 16-3, Lee Chong Wei leads 16-1) and has failed to post a victory against either in over two years. Gade’s “victory” over Lee Chong Wei at the Thomas Cup in May came after just 3 points in the opening game.
Can Gade Win A Medal?
It would be a fitting way to Gade’s career for him to claim a medal in London, his main threats will come from Chen Jin and Chen Long in his quest for a medal. Gade’s record against both of the Chinese players is also poor (Chen Jin leads 8-2 and Chen Long leads 3-2) and without a victory over Chen Jin in almost four years, any hint of injury or fatigue will make a medal of any colour very difficult for Gade in London. He could win a medal, but the Olympics have came probably one year too late for Gade to be considered a medal contender.
With less than 4 weeks to go until the 2012 Olympics, the world’s best players are preparing for the biggest tournament since Beijing four years previously.
The first player to preview is Lee Chong Wei, who was the favourite for the men’s singles until an ankle injury in the Thomas Cup five weeks previously cast doubt whether the Malaysian will make the Olympics at all.
Lee Chong Wei was the on-form player and perennial favourite for almost every Super Series in the past 12 months, he claimed his first All England in 2010 and defended successfully in 2011 but the one criticism of Lee Chong Wei’s career is the lack of World Championships, Asian Championships or Olympic golds.
He has lost his world number 1 for the first time in recent memory with his injury layoff to beg the question if he will in fact take part in the Olympics and potentially risk his final year in the sport that will end at the 2013 World Championships.
Does He Need An Olympic Gold To Cement His Legacy?
The answer is probably yes. His last match in the Olympics in 2008 was Lin Dan at his absolute best and Lee Chong Wei needs one of those landmark moments in his career to validate his place in the all-time greats of the game. 199 weeks at the world number 1 spot and 42 titles mean nothing without an Olympic gold or a gold medal at the 2013 World Championships. Another defeat to Lin Dan in London would cement his place at the second best player of this generation, which a win puts him into the discussion of greatest player in recent history.
Can He Win Olympic Gold?
Before his injury, he was the favourite to claim Olympic gold. Even with a 19-9 deficit in his head to heads to Lin Dan, he won their last meeting of relevance in Korea in January of this year. With this ankle injury, his recovery was meant to be a month that sounded like an optimistic estimation. Now, the same people are saying it will be 6 weeks since his injury (May 22) that gives the Malaysian 22 days to be 100% for the Olympics. However, the mindset of Lee Chong Wei is questionable whether his confident in his body and with the speculated attempt suicide of his father just 3 weeks ago hardly the perfect build up to the Olympics.
Can He Beat Lin Dan?
To win Olympic gold, is it almost a certainty that he will need to defeat at some stage. His form going into the Olympics was excellent, losing just one match to Shon Wan Ho in India in late April. Two injury withdrawals against Lin Dan and Peter Gade ask the question if Lee Chong Wei is physically capable to defeat Lin Dan, with the Chinese player gearing his training and scheduling for the greatest chance of retaining his Olympic title.
With less than two months to the opening match of the Olympics, the respective governing bodies have chosen their players to take part in the 2012 Games.
The men’s singles draw will consist of 40 players, with a group stage being introduced for the first time at the Olympics. The draw will consist of 16 groups, with the top 8 players getting a group of just 2 players whilst the 9-16 seeds will be in a group of 3.
1. Lee Chong Wei (Malaysia)
2. Lin Dan (China)
3. Chen Long (China)
4. Chen Jin (China)
5. Peter Gade (Denmark)
6. Sho Sasaki (Japan)
7. Lee Hyun Il (Korea)
8. Kenichi Tago (Japan)
Chen Jin only qualified for the Olympics a mere 4 days before the qualification period ended, with China taking 3 of the top 4 places. Lee Chong Wei’s injury to his ankle at the Thomas Cup puts his presence in the competition at risk, with the Malaysian team claiming that the world number 1 will be out for just a month being an optimistic timeframe for his return to action. If Lee Chong Wei should miss the Olympics or not be 100% then the undoubted favourite for the competition will be the defending champion Lin Dan.
Only the group winners will qualify, but the top 8 will only need to beat a player outside the top 20 in the world to ensure their place in the knockout stages of the event.
9. Simon Santoso (Indonesia)
10. Tien Minh Nguyen (Vietnam)
11. Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia)
12. Jan O Jorgensen (Denmark)
13. Shon Wan Ho (Korea)
14. Marc Zwiebler (Germany)
15. Rajiv Ouseph (Great Britain)
16. Wong Wing Ki (Hong Kong)
Jan O Jorgensen was selected ahead of both Hans-Kristian Vittinghus and Viktor Axelsen to ensure his place at this years Olympics whilst Shon Wan Ho left it to the last possible week to book his place in the qualification spots after jumping from 17 to 14 in the world to ensure a second Korean player in the draw. Taufik Hidayat has made the qualification criteria as he looks for a last flash of brillance to claim his second Olympic title after winning in Athens eight years previously. Rajiv Ouseph is the only British hope in the draw, with the world number 20 narrowly edging out Spain’s Pablo Abian to ensure four European seeds from the 16.
The 9-16 seeds will have a more precarious qualifying process, needing to win the group with three players in it instead of just two.
The remaining 24 players range from the world number 22 Pablo Abian to the two wildcards, Virgil Soeroredjo and Mohamed Ajfan Rasheed who are both ranked outside the top 200 in the world and will be seen as the players the seeded players will most likely want in their groups.
The live draw for the groups will be held in the Olympic Park Main Press Center on July 23 with the final confirmed list of players being released on July 20.
Special thanks to Jan Lin from the BWF for this information