Before the London 2012 Olympics, Niluka Karunaratne’s name would only have been known by diehard badminton fans.
After this morning’s session far more people will have heard of the much travelled Sri Lankan world number 48 who, though prolific at international challenge level with four tournament wins last year, has never really tested himself at the highest level. His most notable achievement to date occurred off court just a few days ago – as flag bearer for his country in last Friday’s Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games.
By 10 a.m. this morning things changed for Karunaratne (featured image) as he became the only one of three badminton flag bearers who won a match at Wembley Arena. The Sri Lankan showed sparkling form en route to inflicting a bruising 21-18 21-16 defeat on eighth-seeded Men’s Singles player, Kenichi Tago, to send the Japanese packing before he knew what hit him.
“It felt like I woke up from sleeping and, the next thing I know, I have lost the match. I don’t know what happened,” said a shocked Tago.
Humble and equally stunned, Karunaratne was never under pressure in the match. Somehow he had sensed today was going to be a good day from the time he woke up.
“I knew there was something special about today. I had a feeling today would be my day,” declared the 27-year-old.
Karunaratne could hardly believe what happened as the crowd cheered him off the court. So low were his expectations that looking ahead to the last 16 was the furthest thing from his mind.
“In this two-man group there was no room for error. I was the outsider and now I am in the last 16. I will go back and relax and look at the draw now to see who I am playing as I have no clue. I did not expect to get past this match so I did not even look,” he declared.
Asked about the significance of this win, the Sri Lankan was in no doubt about the effect it would have on badminton in his homeland
“This is the biggest and most significant victory in the history of badminton in Sri Lanka.”
In the all-European Mixed Doubles battle in Group B, Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen conquered Polish pair and current European champions Robert Mateusiak and Nadiezda Zieba in a match that had everything. The Danes won the contest 21-9 14-21 21-17 against opposition whom they know well from playing in the Danish league.
The Poles, some people’s favourites for a European medal at these Games, made some crucial tactical errors near the end of the third game and these proved decisive.
“We focused too much on Fischer. This was an error as he was outstanding and grew in confidence as the match progressed,” noted Mateusiak.
The Danes will look to claim top spot in the group as they zero in on the quarter-finals.
“We were tactically a little better. We know the strong points of the Poles and in the third game we frustrated Robert in particular which was crucial for the win. I still expect both European pairs to come out of this group,” said Fischer.
The morning’s loudest cheer was reserved for Edwin Ekiring. The Ugandan number one endeared himself to the crowd before finally succumbing to the superior technical skills of 16th seed Wong Wing Ki of Hong Kong.
“I am disappointed to lose of course but the fans have been amazing. I want to thank them and everyone who has supported me,” said the first-timer of his Olympics experience.