It's the 2012 London Olympics, we have reached the summit clash and China have a chance to win gold in each of the five events – men's singles, women's singles, mixed doubles, women's doubles and men's doubles. For many, this was normal as the Asian powerhouse has been the dominant force in badminton for decades. At the end of the night in London, Chinese shuttlers stood on the podium after winning all five events with five gold, two silver, and a bronze medal.
In 2014, the untouchable Li Xuerui held the tag of world’s best female badminton player and followed closely by compatriot Wang Yihan. Lin Dan was the best male player ever to grace the sport, while the explosive Chen Long was the second-ranked male player in the world.
The habit of winning and the obsession of being immortal in the sport was just admirable. China's enviable domination had set the benchmark in world badminton, however, the 2016 Rio Olympics proved far less productive for the mighty Chinese as slowly other countries moved up the ladder. They managed to take home two gold medals – one in men's singles and the other in men's doubles – but their strongest weapon, the women's singles, failed to deliver.
The London feat wasn't surprising but this slump was. It was no more China vs China in the women's singles final. The houseful arena in Rio witnessed badminton's first non-Chinese winner in the women's singles since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics after Li Xuerui failed to defend her title won in London, losing in the semi-final. Yihan and Wang Shixian retired from the national team after the Rio Olympics and since then China have barely done something worth applauding the women's singles.
Li Xuerui, Yihan, and Shixian not only dominated the headlines but also the Badminton World Federation (BWF) rankings. However, following the massive slump at the 2016 Games, the likes of Spain’s Carolina Marin, Tai Tzu Ying of Chinese Taipei and Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon have managed to break their stranglehold. But what's interesting is that a new breed of shuttlers like Sun Yu and He Bingjiao have taken the initiative to bring back the Chinese domination in the women's singles.
"I would say players like Li Xuerui, Wang Yihan, Wang Shixian, Wang Lin and Wang Zing were better players (than the new breed). They were faster and more technically gifted. The new ones are good, they might win some tournaments but they are not as consistent as the older generation. So that is the only difference, I think. He Bingjiao is 20, so they are still young," Saina Nehwal told Firstpost in May.
"India is, of course, doing very well. At the same time, all other countries — if you see Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon, Tai Tzu Ying from Chinese Taipei and also Carolina Marin from Spain — are playing extremely well. They want to win, they want to beat the Chinese players. It is not that the level has come down in any way but the others have got their standard (level) up to where they can also be equal to the Chinese players or beat them," the 2012 Olympic bronze medallist added.
Though the once-dominating trio is out of the picture, the new breed of women's singles shuttlers have shown glimpses of their potential to fill the void in the top 10 of the BWF rankings. Bingjiao has shown her class at the international stage, winning silver at the 2017 Badminton Asia Championships earlier this year. Also, the 20-year-old is currently ranked 7th in the latest BWF rankings.
At number six in the rankings is Sun Yu, who has been performing consistently well at the Grand Prix Gold and Superseries events in the last two years. And finally, the 10th-ranked Chen Yufei is touted to become the next big thing is Chinese badminton following a splendid 2016, where she won the World Junior Championships and also three back-to-back medals at the GPG events.
"Badminton has become very open now and the most improved nations I can see is the Chinese Taipei. They are coming out with a lot of young players in the junior level as well as the men's and women's singles. There are quite a few other nations who are doing well. China, of course, will and always be there," said former India national coach Vimal Kumar.
Meanwhile, countries like India – who have won eight more titles than China (4) in 2017 and Japan (6) – have taken the advantage of the sudden downfall. In fact, European countries too have started to churn out some good players.
"European countries like Spain and Denmark are also putting in a lot of effort and young players are coming up but we don't know. At the moment in India, we only follow Marin because she has beaten Saina and PV Sindhu. We only have followed players from Asia," Kumar added.
In each of the Superseries events that have taken place this year, only Lin Dan has managed to win a gold in the Malaysia Superseries Premier tournament by beating old foe Lee Chong Wei. On the other hand, the air of uncertainty among the Chinese women's singles could fade away with a podium finish at the 2017 World Badminton Championships, an event where China has dominated with a tally of 61 medals and miles ahead of second-placed Indonesia (21 medals).
A total of four women's singles shuttlers will be heading to Glasgow in a bid to continue China's trend of putting their hands on the elusive gold. Yufei, Sun, He and Xiaoxin all have got bye's in the first round but the main task for them starts in the second where the young shuttlers will be pitted against some of the in-form players. With so much potential and backing, the Chinese girls have an opportunity to smash away the talk of the sudden downfall and rejuvenate the country's domination in the sport.
Updated Date: Aug 21, 2017 01:56 AM