Could a rule change end Chinese Olympic badminton dominance?

A minor rule change regarding qualification for the badminton event at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games could threaten Chinese dominance at the global showpiece.

Historically, Chinese shuttlers have dominated the sport at the Olympics.

At the 2012 Games, China won gold in each of the five badminton events – men’s singles and doubles, women’s singles and doubles as well as the mixed doubles events. In addition, the country also won three further medals. No other country won more than two medals in London.

While China weren’t as dominant in the previous editions of the Games this century as they were in the British capital, their dominance were also clear in Beijing 2008, Athens 2004 and Sydney 2000.

In Australia in 2000, China walked away with four golds and eight of the 15 available medals. Four years later in Greece, the country winning three golds and five medals in total – a paltry total considering what happened in Sydney but still more than any other country achieved. In front of their home crowds in Beijing, the trend continued, as Chinese shuttlers won three more golds as well as five minor medals.

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Although Chinese shuttlers will remain some of the top contenders in Rio, the event is likely to be somewhat more open after Olympic chiefs imposed a rule change which limits countries from entering more than two singles entrants into each event. Previously, countries were allowed three, and since China have tremendous depth in their talent pool, the more was the merrier.

Additionally, the rest of the world has seemingly been gaining on China in recent times.

The world number ones in both the men’s and women’s game are non-Chinese – Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and Spain’s Carolina Marin top the pile, although in both divisions the numbers two and three are Chinese. Subsequently, the likes of Chong Wei and Marin will still have a strong contingent of Chinese shuttlers to contend with, although at least the remainder of the top talent from China won’t be in the draws as well.

While the rule change promises to threaten the badminton status quo in Rio, there are several other topics of hot discussion on offer at the Games, which is set to start at the fourth pavilion of Riocentro on August 11.

Can Lin Dan complete a historic three-peat?

Lin Dan, China’s world number three, is regarded as perhaps the greatest men’s player in history after winning the singles golds in Beijing and London.

Both those golds were won against Chong Wei, arguably the second-greatest player to grace the courts this century.

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By badminton standards, Lin and Chong Wei are both old – Lin will celebrate his 33rd birthday in October, while Chong Wei is almost exactly a year older.

Despite going into what is almost definitely his final Games, Lin remains one of the most feared players to come up against, much in the same way that tennis great Roger Federer continues win matches against lesser players almost by reputation alone.

That said, the 32-year-old from Longyan is still able to combine his sublime net play with powerful attacks and agile defensive work, and many fans are hoping for another gold medal match between Lin and Chong Wei.

For that to happen, world champion and second-ranked Chen Long – the bronze medalist in London – would have to be defeated along the way, though…

Scandals galore

In recent years, several scandals have threatened to rock the sport at its core, but badminton chiefs are hopeful that the Rio Games will provide the opportunity to move on from them.

Most notably, Chong Wei was slapped with a eight-month ban following the 2014 World Championships after the Malaysian tested positive for a banned substance. He claimed to have taken an anti-inflammatory drug inadvertently. Fortunately for Chong Wei, a ruling panel found that he was negligent rather than malicious, otherwise a substantially longer ban would have been enforced.

Meanwhile, at the 2012 Games, two South Korean women’s doubles teams as well as teams from Indonesia and China were disqualified for attempting to lose matches in the early stages of the competition in order to influence their places in the knockout draws.

Two of the Koreans – Kim Ha-na and Jeong Kyung-eun – have been included in the Olympic team again…

“Time has passed and I’ve moved on and grown up,” Kim said following her inclusion in the Korean team. “Although I still have bad memories, I will never make the same mistake again.”

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Additionally, a gambling scandal has hit the ever-improving Japanese team. The country’s top men’s player, Kento Momota, who had reached a world ranking of second earlier this year, was suspended and subsequently banned from competing in Rio after admitting to gambling at an illegal casino in Japan.

Concerns over the facilities

Badminton is not a popular sport in much of the Western world and Brazil in particular has very limited experience of hosting major events. As a result, there are some concerns about the venue for the 2016 showpiece.

During an invitational event in 2015, Lin remarked how the arena was small when compared to some of the other premier badminton facilities across the world.

Furthermore, air currents and drifts are a major concerns when playing badminton at ill-prepared facilities. Drifts, in particular, can be detrimental to the speed and direction of the conical shuttlecock, which only weighs about 5 grams but could travel at speeds of over 300km/h.

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Improper air conditioning units and the regular opening and closing of doors or windows can have marked influence on the air currents within the venue.

In an effort to compensate for currents and drifts, players change ends regularly, although that doesn’t reduce the unpredictability of the flight of the shuttle…

That said, there were concerns over drift in London four years ago as well, and the event was completed without any major complaints.

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