The man who won his first Olympic final was once the lad who lost his first six Superseries finals.
Viktor Axelsen has come a long way from the time he used be a finalist with frailties, and this eventful journey, which included the world title in 2017, has now seen him scale a summit that few have.
Twenty-five years after Denmark last won the Olympic men’s singles crown, Axelsen stood atop the podium, making him only the third European, after Poul-Erik Hoyer in 1996 and Carolina Marin in 2016, to win the gold medal.
It was a nerveless performance against Chen Long, famed for being an unwavering opponent. Only after the final point of his 21-15 21-12 result did the floodgates open, Axelsen uninhibitedly letting all the emotions wash over.
“Going into an Olympic final, I knew that I would be a little tense maybe, but I reminded myself that this is what I’ve trained for, if I have to win this I have to relax and be patient and take my opportunities and tried to let my body do the work and let instinct take over. And I’m really happy I managed to do so,” Axelsen was to say later.
The plan was executed to perfection, and there was an unruffled certainty with which Axelsen made the play – a finely-calibrated pace, sure touch at the net, patient wait for the narrow windows of opportunity, and sudden explosions of power. Chen, a master of the deliberate style, matched him until midway in the opening game, after which the Dane’s attacking prowess started to tilt the game decisively in his favour.
“I would like to congratulate Viktor,” said a gracious Chen Long. “I told him to enjoy the achievement.”
Coming into Tokyo 2020 as the defending champion, Chen recalled his troubles with confidence over the last five years, and his delight at having quelled those doubts to find his form once again.
“After winning in 2016 I experienced several losses,” Chen said. “Every time I questioned myself. I doubted my abilities. The team supported me. In 2018, Li Mao was called and he helped me bounce back. The training time during the pandemic gave me time to prepare and strengthen myself. Since the first day here, every match was played according to plan. I couldn’t win the gold, but I’m still the second-best.”
The final done, the two finalists exchanged pleasantries and T-shirts on court.
“I’ve played Chen Long many times, and he’s been a big inspiration for many years,” said Axelsen. “And he was gracious and came to my court to say congratulations and complimented my performance here, and I told him he’s been an inspiration to me.”
“I think you can say I’ve been my absolute best. When you win an Olympic final like this in straight games against Chen Long, you can say at least you’ve been really, really close to your absolute best. I’m so happy.”