Badminton furore questions spirit of Games


LONDON (Reuters) - The Olympics were reeling on Wednesday from a scandal involving women badminton players who "threw" matches to manipulate the draw, prompting jeers from the crowd and angering fans for undermining the spirit of the Games.

The controversy overshadowed spectacular sporting action late on Tuesday, including U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps's historic 19th Olympic medal that made him the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Spectators at the Wembley Arena shouted abuse and jeered at the players as badminton matches descended into farce, with the teams deliberately spraying shots and duffing serves into the net to concede points.

"The pairs have been charged ... with 'not using one's best efforts to win a match' and 'conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport'," the federation said in a statement early on Wednesday.

One female volunteer at the venue was in floods of tears at what she saw.

"This is not what the Olympics are supposed to be about," she sobbed, summing up the disappointment and anger that dominated news bulletins in Britain on Wednesday.

The sanction struck a sour note on an otherwise record-breaking day on which Phelps surpassed the previous medal benchmark of 18 held for nearly half a century by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.

Phelps saluted his team mates in the 4x200 metres freestyle relay who flung their arms around him. "I thank those guys for helping me get to this moment," he said.

In the badminton, the players involved were China's world champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang, Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Meiliana Jauhari and two South Korean pairs - Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na, and Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung.

It was not clear whether Olympic officials would take further action, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) defers in the first instance to the federations of individual sports.

"We have full confidence in the federation to take any necessary steps. They have the experience to deal with such issues," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

MORE SWIMMING AHEAD

The swimming has dominated these first days of the Games, with high-profile athletics yet to start. Australian James Magnussen, American Nathan Adrian and Brazilian Cesar Cielo, the world record holder, were due to thrash it out on Wednesday evening in the men's 100 metres freestyle final.

Chinese prodigy Ye Shiwen won her second gold of the Games on Tuesday, setting an Olympic record in the 200 individual medley after stunning swimming pundits with her victory and world record in the 400 medley three days earlier.

The 16-year-old was forced to fend off insinuations of doping - voiced by a top American coach and not backed by any evidence - that drew a sharp response from Chinese officials as well as athletes and officials from other countries.

"Ye Shiwen has been seen as a genius since she was young and her performance vindicates that," Xu Qi, head of the Chinese swimming team, told the news agency Xinhua.

"Don't use your own suspicions to knock down others. This shows lack of respect for athletes and for Chinese swimming."

Even the U.S. team backed away from the comments, made by executive director of the World Swimming Coaches Association John Leonard, making clear Leonard was not in any way connected to the U.S. delegation to London.

EQUESTRIAN, GYMNASTICS

Elsewhere on Day Four, Germany won their first two golds, in equestrian individual and team eventing, and France grabbed their fourth, in canoe slalom.

The U.S. women's team stormed to the gymnastics gold - the country's first since 1996 - with dazzling performances from Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas.

China top the medals table going into Day Five with 13 golds, followed by the United States on nine. Each has 23 medals in all.

Hosts Britain, who dazzled at Beijing in 2008 to take fourth place with 19 golds, are still awaiting their first in London.

They have high hopes on Wednesday morning when Helen Glover and Heather Stanning compete in the pairs rowing, an event the duo have dominated this season and set a new Olympic best in their heat.

Bradley Wiggins, the first Briton to win the Tour de France, will also aim to land his fourth Olympic gold when he rides in the individual cycling time trial at Hampton Court Palace outside London.

THE DARK SIDE

The flap over the badminton was a reminder of the lengths to which countries and athletes will go to win gold, even if the Olympic charter says the Games are about sport pursued in "a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play".

South Korea head coach Sung Han-kook admitted his two pairings attempted to throw their matches against China's world champion duo and the Indonesians, but said it was in retaliation against the Chinese team.

"The Chinese started this. They did it first," Sung told reporters through an interpreter.

He said the Chinese deliberately tried to throw the first of the tainted matches to ensure their leading duo of Yu and Wang would not meet the country's number two pair until the gold medal decider.

"It's a complicated thing with the draws. They didn't want to meet each other in the semi-final. So we did the same. We didn't want to play the South Korean team again (in the knockout stages)," Sung said.

Players and coaches of other teams said such tactics were not unknown, especially from the Chinese team.

"They did so many times last year, they did not play between each other like 20 matches. They do what they want," said Bulgarian singles player Alesia Zaitsave.

China's state news agency Xinhua said the country "opposes any behaviour or acts which contravene this spirit or sports morality for any reason or in any form".

"The Chinese sports delegation take the incident in the women's badminton doubles very seriously," the agency quoted an unnamed spokesman as saying.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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