Lee Yang and Wang Chi-Lin’s journey to Olympic gold was unlike any other in men’s doubles, from the inception of badminton competition at the Olympics in 1992.
Having not won a World Tour Super 750 or above title until the beginning of this year, to then sweeping the Asian Leg with back-to-back titles in three weeks, and then stamping their authority in the knockout rounds at Tokyo 2020 – it has indeed been an eventful year for the Chinese Taipei duo. Quite a contrast to past men’s doubles gold medallists, most of whom were already world champions before winning the Olympics.
Their sojourn at Tokyo had started on a bumpy note, with Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty edging them in a fierce contest, 27-25 in the third. The crestfallen Lee and Wang kept their hopes alive with a quick win over Ben Lane/Sean Vendy, and then, facing the formidable Marcus Fernaldi Gideon/Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo, hit their stride in a three-game victory.
With that scalp under their belt, Lee and Wang proved simply untouchable in the matches that followed. Two-time All England champions Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe fell in 42 minutes; then it was the turn of world champions Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan to bite the dust in 27 minutes.
The final was expected to be a close battle, given the pace, power and experience of Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen in major finals; however, the Chinese were all at sea as they were outdone in every department, and capitulated in 32 minutes, 21-18 21-12.
The Promise of More
The gold would be the first medal for Chinese Taipei in badminton at the Olympics, marking a historic moment for the team.
There is little doubt that, should Lee and Wang play with the confidence they did in Tokyo, they are due for many more honours – such was their command over the other top pairs.
Quite surprisingly, most of the men’s doubles matches in the knockout rounds were one-sided affairs. The closest was Kim Astrup/Anders Skaarup Rasmussen’s narrow defeat to Li/Liu in the quarterfinals, 21-19 in the third game of an absorbing contest, in a match that swung the Chinese’s way only at the very end.
Aaron Chia/Soh Wooi Yik promised much in their semifinal against Li/Liu, but once the Chinese had absorbed the attack of the Malaysians in the opening game, they couldn’t keep up the intensity and were outgunned in the second game. To their credit, the Malaysians picked themselves up for the bronze medal match against world champions Ahsan/Setiawan.
♦The talking point in the early phase of competition was the continuing misery of the Minions in staking a claim for a medal at major events. They looked shell-shocked in their quarterfinal loss to Chia/Soh – a pair they had beaten in all seven previous matches.
♦The Minions’ compatriots, the Daddies, were uncharacteristically erratic in the semifinals and bronze playoff. It was revealed later that Setiawan had, in fact, only recently recovered from COVID-19 infection, and he wasn’t yet back at full fitness, which would explain why the Daddies didn’t quite look their assured selves on court.
♦Two other teams that didn’t do as well as expected were Korea’s Choi Solgyu/Seo Seungjae (Group D) and Russia’s Vladimir Ivanov/Ivan Sozonov (Group B), both of whom couldn’t progress into the knockout round.
♦Rankireddy/Shetty will count themselves unlucky in not being able to make the quarterfinals after winning their opening match against Lee/Wang, but their straight-games defeat to the Minions sealed their fate.
♦Japan’s hopes rested on Endo/Watanabe and Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda, but both couldn’t progress past the quarterfinals stage.