Sprint Begins

Three months – that’s the time left for Olympic hopefuls to cement their place for Paris 2024.

And while the qualification period has been on since 1 May 2023, the players’ chances will hinge on how well they hold up under the increased pressure and demands of the last remaining events, with other contenders to the same spots breathing down their necks. The qualification clock will stop ticking on 28 April 2024, with the Finnish International (Future Series) marking its end.

For the elite players on the HSBC BWF World Tour, January and March offer several opportunities to build their ranking points.

January had a Super 1000 (PETRONAS Malaysia Open), a Super 750 (YONEX SUNRISE India Open), a Super 500 (DAIHATSU Indonesia Masters) and a Super 300 (PRINCESS SIRIVANNAVARI Thailand Masters).

February is thin on World Tour tournaments, with continental team championships (and individual championships in Africa and Oceania) taking centre stage. The tour then shifts to Europe for the YONEX German Open 2024 late in the month, setting up six straight weeks of back-to-back tournaments.

The YONEX French Open 2024 (Super 750) – test event for Paris 2024 – is followed by the Orleans Masters 2024 (Super 300), YONEX All England Open 2024 (Super 1000), YONEX Swiss Open 2024 (Super 300), and the Madrid Spain Masters 2024 (Super 300).

The home stretch for the race climaxes in April, with the last remaining spots for Asia, Europe and Pan Am likely to be decided at the respective individual continental championships.

THE FRONTRUNNERS

The most dominant players of recent years – Viktor Axelsen in men’s singles, An Se Young in women’s singles, Chen Qing Chen/Jia Yi Fan in women’s doubles and Zheng Si Wei/Huang Ya Qiong in mixed doubles continued to pull away from the rest of the opposition, with big leads at the top of the Race to Paris rankings.

And while men’s doubles continues to be the most competitive of the five categories, Liang Wei Keng/Wang Chang’s form at the end of 2023 meant they shot ahead of the pack by over 5,000 points.

An sits comfortably at the top of standings.

TIGHT RACES

Then there’s the jostling among highly-ranked teammates, given a National Olympic Committee can have only two players/pairs if both are ranked in the top 16 of singles or top eight of doubles in the Race to Paris.

Chou Tien Chen, for instance, will be aware his compatriot Lin Chun-Yi is just four ranking places away. Before his PRINCESS SIRIVANNAVARI Thailand Masters 2024 success, Chou had endured a prolonged spell of lean form, while Lin has been getting better and better, starting the year brilliantly with a semifinal at the Malaysia Open.

Other tight races between compatriots are likely to feature Malaysia’s Lee Zii Jia (No.10) and Ng Tze Yong (No.15), Toma Junior Popov (No.24) and Christo Popov (No.26), and India’s Lakshya Sen (No.19) and Kidambi Srikanth (No.25) for the second spot behind HS Prannoy.

In women’s singles, China’s second spot could be a photo-finish between He Bing Jiao (No.6) and Han Yue (No.8), while Thailand’s Supanida Katethong (No.16) and Pornpawee Chochuwong (No.17) are neck-and-neck at the moment.

Lee and Ng could both qualify for Malaysia.

DOUBLES RACES

Women’s doubles will see a few heated races.

Young sensations Liu Sheng Shu/Tan Ning (No.3) have a thin lead over Zhang Shu Xian/Zheng Yu (No.6); Japan’s Mayu Matsumoto/Wakana Nagahara (No.7) have leapfrogged Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota, who haven’t played since early December due to injury.

Lower down, it will be interesting to see if Canada’s Catherine Choi/Josephine Wu (No.33) can vault past USA’s Annie Xu/Kerry Xu (No.29) for Pan Am’s continental spot. In each doubles, at least one pair from each of the five Continental Confederations are guaranteed a place.

Wu is also on track in mixed doubles with Ty Alexander Lindeman; at No.32 they are close behind USA’s Vinson Chiu/Jennie Gai (No.30).

At the top of the rankings, Korea’s second pair Kim Won Ho/Jeong Na Eun will be aware they are on the precipice, as a slip beyond the top eight will be fatal.

Rinov Rivaldy/Pitha Haningtyas Mentari (No.15) and Dejan Ferdinansyah/Gloria Emanuelle Widjaja (No.21) are not far separated by points, and that could be a mini-race Indonesia will be tuned into.

Wu stands to make it in two disciplines.

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