RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - A diverse spread of medals and a European renaissance in Rio reinvigorated Olympic badminton four years after the scandal-plagued tournament at London was completely dominated by China.
The sport needed a boost at South America’s first Games after its image was tainted four years ago by the expulsion of eight players who deliberately played to lose pool matches in order to secure more favorable draws.
It got it in spades, with dramatic contests watched by big, enthusiastic crowds at the Riocentro.
Badminton superpower China topped the medal table with hard-won titles in men’s singles and doubles but Rio was far from the procession that left fans cold in London.
China’s defense of its sweep of five titles was dashed early and its long dynasties in women’s singles and doubles broken by plucky Europeans.
Spain’s Carolina Marin, dubbed the Rafa Nadal of badminton, eliminated Chinese holder Li Xuerui before crushing India’s hopes of a first gold at Rio by beating Pusarla Sindhu.
That secured Europe a first title in 20 years and only its second since the sport’s 1992 debut at the Games.
Sindhu bowed out happy as India’s first woman to win a silver in any sport.
Silver-winning Danes Kamilla Rytter Juhl and Christinna Pedersen ended China’s 20-year reign in women’s doubles but the gold went to top-seeded Japanese Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo.
World number one Lee Chong Wei defeated nemesis and twice champion Lin Dan in a classic men’s singles semi-final but the Malaysian was left heartbroken again in his Olympic swansong after a third successive defeat in the gold medal-decider.
It was Lin that beat him in the London and Beijing finals but Chen Long stepped out of the Chinese great’s shadow to deny Lee again at Rio.
Malaysia was further frustrated, with their men’s doubles and mixed doubles pairs beaten in the finals, ending the nation’s hopes of a first Olympic gold.
China’s Fu Haifeng and Zhang Nan grabbed the men’s doubles title, with Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir winning Indonesia’s first mixed doubles title.
Editing by Alison Williams