Dragons are alive

China’s sweep of the World Badminton Championships was a blow to those seeking signs of weakness in the powerhouse

Dev S Sukumar. Bangalore

What an irony that China’s legendary chief coach, Li Yongbo, turned out to be wrong. When the World Badminton Championships concluded on Sunday, Yongbo’s only certainty for a gold medal – three-time champion Lin Dan – didn’t even have a bronze. Not that Yongbo will complain, for his team swept the board – five gold medals in five events – making it the first team since 1997 to achieve that feat.

Before the tournament began, the outspoken chief coach claimed China was not at its best. “Of course I always want all five,” he’d said. “But this time we have to be less optimistic. It is impossible to even match last year’s four wins. The women are still in the shadow of the Uber Cup defeat, and the best men’s pair, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, have not played together for months because they represent different clubs in the domestic league. So it is also very difficult.”

How significant that it was up to Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, then, to ensure the sweep in the very last match. They were up against the world No.1 pair, Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, and – despite the lack of match practice – ensured the final gold in a three-game match.

The final day began with the mixed doubles, and it featured a little drama of its own. Zheng Bo, the two-time All England champion, had been thrown out of the Chinese national camp for disciplinary reasons. Anything short of a win at the Worlds would have seen him disappear into obscurity – it was thus a tribute to his mental make-up that he inspired partner Ma Jin to triumph in the final over compatriots He Hanbin and Yu Yang. Zheng Bo’s celebration and tears at the end of the 42-minute battle revealed much of what he’d been going through.

China’s winners consisted of the young and the experienced. Both singles winners – Chen Jin and Wang Lin – are emerging out of the shadows of their more illustrious compatriots, and perhaps the Chinese will now build the team around them for the London Olympics. What must have relieved the team management was the performance of the women – after its shock Uber Cup loss to Korea, this was their biggest test, and they came through easily.

Basically, the results were reaffirmation that the doomsday predictors have got it all wrong. China seemed to be (relatively) weak – their national league had placed its own unique demands on them – and everyone was unsure what effect it would have on them. None, it turned out. Most of their biggest competitors fell in the semifinals or earlier – Saina Nehwal, Peter Gade, Tine Baun, Lee Chong Wei. Young guns like Kenichi Tago and Jan O Jorgensen barely registered their presence. Three of the five finals were all-China affairs – which gives a good idea of how dominant they are.

All those predicting China’s imminent demise were wrong. One suspects the dire predictions were based on hope — and a hint of envy — and not objective analysis. The other countries will have to willy-nilly get back to the drawing-board and figure out how the Red Army might be stalled in future.

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About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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