Friday, August 19, 2016
TEXT BY GAYLE ALLEYNE I BADMINTONPHOTO
Badminton’s Olympic annals ushered in a new era today as Carolina Marin became its first non-Asian Women’s Singles champion.
In another absorbing final that will be talked about for years to come, the Spanish señorita outlasted lithe-limbed PV Sindhu to lay claim to an enviable trifecta of accolades: the world No.1 ranking; the reigning two-time World champion and now the coveted Olympic gold medal.
Her triumph inside Riocentro – Pavilion 4 snapped China’s 16-year dominance of the category with four successive Olympic champions and gave Europe its first taste of glory in Women’s Singles, matching the Men’s Singles gold won by Denmark’s Poul-Erik Høyer (now BWF Pesident) in Atlanta 1996.
“My dream has come true but there’s been a lot of work behind this medal,” declared the 23-year-old with her latest hardware dangling from her neck.
“I want to say thanks to my team, to Spain, to my hometown Huelva, to my parents, my boyfriend and to all my family in Spain.
“It has been a tough two months of training and in every session I thought about the (gold) medal and how I wanted to fight for it – and it has come true. I am very happy.”
However, it took almost the best from the Huelva native to emerge victorious – 19-21 21-12 21-15 – in the 80-minute battle royal as her Indian rival proved worthy of a place in the showpiece event, signalling from early that she was not content simply to reach the final in her first Olympic outing.
She too wanted the big prize – and she went after it.
Using all of her 5-foot-10-inches frame to telling effect, she matched Marin shot for shot and looked every bit at home as she had in the two BWF World Championships in which she dismantled some of the best in the business en route to successive bronze medals. Having vowed “no more bronze” though, she had gold on her mind when she grabbed a string of points to snatch the first game from Marin who had been in the ascendancy at 19-16.
That tentative interlude was quickly replaced by another rampaging attack by left-handed Marin as she bulldozed her way through the second game to be back on even terms. The third game produced an early tug-of-war with Marin off to a fast 5-1 start, her half-smashes and drop shots racking up quick points. Sindhu fought back, pressuring Marin and drawing her into errors.
From there, the Spaniard’s killer instinct kicked in and she roared on to her destiny; arriving at six championship points with a frenzied fist pump and, of course, one of her trademark screams that had punctuated the entire match.
A neat cross-court shot which left Sindhu sprawled on the court in her retrieval attempt wrapped up the enthralling encounter that featured some astounding rallies and sharp net play. The deafening environment in which it unfolded – with flag-waving camps on both sides in full cry – was an incredible sight.
What a superb advertisement for badminton – and in, of all locations, Rio de Janeiro!
South America’s first Olympic Games could not have wished for better – a Latina queen on badminton’s most prestigious stage.
“I knew that to get the gold medal I would have to give everything – and I did. I just believed in myself. That I can do it,” said Marin, swarmed by media in the aftermath of catapulting Spanish badminton to heights not yet experienced by some of the traditional powerhouses of the sport.
Meanwhile, the pride of Hyderabad, Sindhu, was pleased with her Olympic debut; another of her giant-killing exploits.
“I am on cloud nine right now. I am almost speechless because I didn’t expect I would play this brilliantly. To be the first Indian to get a silver medal in badminton…I am very happy.
“My ultimate aim was to get a medal. It’s been a wonderful week for me,” she said, thanking her family, coaches and support staff.
“Both of us played really well and I congratulate her because she played amazingly and in the third game it was equal until 10-10 and then she got a lead and kept it.
“It was just her day. I fought very hard and I gave it my best.”
Meanwhile, Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara was awarded the bronze medal after dethroned Women’s Singles champion, Li Xuerui of China, withdrew from their match due to the injury she sustained in the semi-final versus Marin.