The most moving images from Tokyo 2020 were those of Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu crying inconsolably after winning their gold medal match against Chen Qing Chen and Jia Yi Fan.
Polii and Rahayu’s campaign was driven by emotion and a deep desire stemming from wanting to assuage personal tragedy and to overcome earlier challenges. Rahayu, aware of how deeply Polii’s brother’s death had affected her, was all that her partner could wish for; she was a bundle of energy on court, while off it, she stood beside Polii offering emotional support. Polii herself was calmness personified on court, flashing a smile even when errors were made. It was this partnership, feeding off each other’s physical and emotional energies, that saw them gain unassailable momentum.
Granted they did have a strong track record, but at Tokyo they played beyond themselves, in a zone where adrenaline mattered more than just ability. This passion drove them in a marathon quarterfinal against Du Yue/Li Yin Hui, and past formidable opponents in the semifinals and final; that they beat accomplished rivals Chen and Jia in straight games was testament to this fact.
This was a story, a fairytale, with multiple strands. Polii, ushered out of London 2012 in ignominy for having not given her best; who was close to retirement after Rio 2016, who had overcome shoulder injury and the recent loss of her elder brother. Rahayu, a hard-hitter who had never demonstrated the level of skill or playmaking she did in Tokyo. Together, they composed a dream story for Indonesia, in becoming the nation’s first gold medallists in women’s doubles.
Japan have dominated women’s doubles over the last few years, and were expected to be sure-shot contenders for the gold in Tokyo.
But a right knee injury to Sayaka Hirota in training in June, which necessitated her wearing a brace on court, effectively ruled the world No.1 duo out of medal contention. Hirota and Yuki Fukushima gave it their best and did win two of their group matches, over Chloe Birch/Lauren Smith and Chow Mei Kuan/Lee Meng Yean. After taking the opening game of their quarterfinal against Chen/Jia, however, the Japanese ran out of steam. Match over, the Chinese gave them a warm embrace – the visuals made a great case for the camaraderie that exists in badminton among top players.
As for world champions Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara, the pressure of home expectations was possibly too heavy to bear. They struggled in group matches against Rachel Honderich/Kristen Tsai and Selena Piek/Cheryl Seinen, and then fell to Kim Soyeong/Kong Heeyong in one of the closest matches of the event, 28-26 in the third.
♦Korea retained the women’s doubles bronze they won in Rio 2016; this time the bronze was assured as it was an all-Korean affair. Kim/Kong made it past Shin Seungchan/Lee Sohee. HSBC BWF World Tour Finals champions Shin/Lee were unable to mount a strong challenge as Shin was nursing a calf injury.
♦Gabriela Stoeva/Stefani Stoeva were unlucky in not making the knockout round. The Bulgarians were involved in a close battle with Kim/Kong before falling 21-23 21-12 23-21 in their opening match, which eventually decided their third place in the group.
♦Canada’s Rachel Honderich and Kristen Tsai also impressed, although they couldn’t progress past their group. The Canadians battled hard against Selena Piek/Cheryl Seinen and Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara, losing both matches in three games.
♦Among the early upsets was that of Lee Sohee/Shin Seungchan by Maiken Fruergaard/Sara Thygesen in Group C, with the Danes winning 15-21 21-19 22-20. The Danes were in turn surprised by Gronya Somerville/Setyana Mapasa, 21-19 13-21 21-12, which ruined their chances of making the knockout round.