China’s Chen Long won gold Saturday in men’s badminton, 21-18, 21-18, handing Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei his third straight Olympic silver medal and signaling Chen’s place as the game’s new power.
Chen fell face down on the court then rose weeping after his 2-0 victory. He then threw three rackets and his shirt into the crowd, which was largely filled with Chinese supporters, before draping himself in the Chinese flag.
Lee, while old by badminton standards at 33, was world No. 1 and the favorite coming in. But he faced massive pressure not to lose another Olympic gold, and was coming off a hard-fought match a day earlier against China’s Lin Dan, the man who beat him in the last two Olympic finals, that felt more like a gold-medal contest than a semifinal. Both Lee and Lin are considered by many to be the best players of their era, and maybe of all time.
Chen is now making his place at the top.
Chen led early in the first game of the best-of-three match then trailed before capitalizing on repeated Lee errors at the net to pull ahead and win 21-18. Chen then fought off an early Lee lead in the second game to power by the Malaysian 21-18.
Though Lee played aggressively, often staring Chen down after winners, Chen seemed to have an answer to both Lee’s power, parrying his smashes, and to his touch, repeatedly finding his drop shots and lifting them safely toward Lee’s backcourt. Chen’s smashes more often found the lines for winners and his subtle net shots often had Lee flustered.
The triumph of youth was also the story in the bronze medal match as Viktor Axelsen of Denmark beat two-time Olympic champion Lin 2-1 earlier Saturday.
Despite Chen’s victory and an earlier gold for China in men’s doubles, it has been a tough Olympics for China, which has lost its place as badminton’s overwhelming superpower. Several top players, including medalists from past games, lost early in Rio. China swept all five badminton gold medals at the 2012 London Games.
On Friday, Carolina Marin of Spain beat P.V. Sindhu of India for gold in women’s singles badminton. Marin, the world No. 1 and heavy favorite ahead of the Rio Games, also beat Li Xuerui, the defending Olympic champion from China, to get to the gold medal match. Sindhu, ranked world No. 10, made a strong, surprising run through the tournament. Japan’s Nozomi Okuhara took bronze.