PETALING JAYA: The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics by a year is a welcome boost for badminton powerhouse China who have pinned their hopes on Chen Long and Shi Yuqi to keep the nation’s three-Games winning streak going in the men’s singles event.
The men’s singles crown has yet to switch hands since Lin Dan defeated Lee Chong Wei in the Beijing 2008 final, reclaiming the gold won by Ji Xinpeng in Sydney 2000.
Lin Dan managed to defend his title four years later in London, becoming the first player to do so in the men’s singles, before Chen Long made it third in a row for China in Rio 2016. Chong Wei was on the losing end on both occasions.
China were only shut out of the final in Athens 2004, when Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat beat South Korea’s Shon Seung-mo for gold.
For this Olympics, the Chinese title defence prospects look bleak following the emergence of Japan’s Kento Momota and Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen as top dogs and also the resurgence of Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, who won the All-England recently.
There are also ambitious young stars who are just as capable of contending such as the Indonesian duo of Anthony Ginting and Jonatan Christie, Denmark’s Anders Antonsen and Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia.
There’s certainly cause for concern for the Chinese side as the 31-year-old Chen Long’s form has taken a dip in the last two years while Yuqi, 24, is still trying to rediscover the form that crowned him the All-England and World Tour Finals champion in 2018 following a nasty ankle injury.
Thankfully, the postponement of the Olympics to July 23-Aug 8 next year, has given them valuable time to re-establish themselves.
Renowned Chinese media Sina Sports in a commentary said the one-year deferment has brought a much needed relief as it would now allow their men’s singles coach Li Mao to crack the whip and turn both Chen Long and Yuqi into gold medal contenders.
Li Mao, who is best known for grooming Chong Wei during his five-year stint in Malaysia from 2005, rejoined the China BA (which he left in 1998) in August last year to revive the dwindling fortunes of the Chinese men’s singles department.“Li Mao will need to work his magic on Chen Long. Since his return last year, Chen Long seems to have improved. He defeated Asian Games champion Jonatan (Christie) to defend his French Open title (last October) and that was a breakthrough of sorts for him and his only title of the season, ” said Sina Sports.
As for Yuqi, he will now have time to fully recover from his injury.“Although he did well enough to be provisionally qualified for the Olympics, he’s clearly far from his best, ” continued the commentary.
“Now that the Olympics have been postponed, hopes are high that Yuqi will be able to return to the level before (his injury) come next year.
“Had it not been the injury, Yuqi could have jostled for the world No. 1 spot with Momota. But Momota is also recovering from injury (due to a road accident in Kuala Lumpur). He has the opportunity to catch up with his powerful opponent.”
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