LONDON - Japan made badminton history Saturday at Wembley Arena, picking up the nation’s first-ever Olympic medal in the sport.
No. 4 seeds Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa earned the silver in the women’s doubles final, producing a stellar comeback but falling short to China’s Zhao Yunlei and Tian Qing.
Japan lost 21-10, 25-23.
The second game produced numerous, terrific back-and-forth rallies and kept the crowd’s attention throughout the drama-filled action.
Ultimately, China’s brilliance was on full display for all to see, and the Asian nation captured the women’s title for the fifth consecutive Olympics. Badminton became an Olympic sport in 1992.
For Fujii, the runnerup finish produced a satisfying result.
“When we went into the final, I didn’t feel that I wanted this silver medal, but now I really want this medal,” said Fujii, who hails from Kumamoto Prefecture.
“(The silver) is actually very heavy,” she added. “I can’t wait to show the medal to my supporters back in Japan.”
The women’s doubles competition Wednesday was marred by controversy as four pairs, including top-seeded Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China, the world champions, were booted out of the competition in what was declared match-fixing by Badminton World Federation officials. Losing matches in order to face lower-seeded foes in the quarterfinals was the reason cited.
Three days later, it was business as usual on the court.
China, backed by rowdy fans chanting loudly before every serve, played a sharp, aggressive match.
“There are so many supporters and flags in the crowd,” Zhao said, reacting to the win. “It feels like we are playing at home in China.”
Game One turned into a thorough shellacking for China around the midway point, with Zhao and Tian growing more effective and precise with their shot selections. After China tied it at 3-3, the lead grew to 11-5 before a short break. From there, it was smooth sailing to a 1-0 advantage.
China’s brilliance was equally matched by Japan’s jitters in the opening game.
“We were nervous as this is a big stage,” Fujii admitted later. “But we kept telling each other, ‘let’s enjoy this.’ In the last half of the second game, finally big smiles came over both our faces.”