Badminton: Li wins all-China battle for gold
LONDON (Reuters) - China's Li Xuerui survived two ferocious comebacks by her top-seeded compatriot Wang Yihan to seal the women's singles badminton gold at the London Games on Saturday, capping her fairytale rise to the pinnacle of the sport.
Li had never imagined she would force her way onto China's peerless badminton team but a 30-game winning streak in the leadup to the tournament won her a spot.
"Just being selected for China means something," the soft-spoken 21-year-old told reporters after upsetting the world champion 21-15 21-23 21-17.
"To be honest it's still like I am dreaming at the moment but looking back, it really was my hard work that got me on the team."
Li, like the rest of her team mates, has shown remarkable composure to shrug off a match-fixing scandal that threatened to derail the Chinese juggernaut and resulted in the expulsion of their world champion doubles pair Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli.
Instead, Li seems to have gone from strength to strength, thrashing second-seeded countrywoman Wang Xin in the semi-final and then grinding down gallant world number one Wang Yihan in front an enthralled crowd at Wembley Arena.
"I think it was extremely cruel for my two team mates to be disqualified because it's extremely difficult for any athlete to compete at the Olympics," Li added.
"Having said that, China has done well, winning both the mixed doubles and the singles and we should share that with them."
China's credibility took a beating over the scandal but Li and Wang did their bit to restore the team's pride by playing out a 78-minute classic.
Li raised her arms in triumph after forcing an error to seal the match and acknowledged ecstatic Chinese fans with an army salute. The vanquished Wang tried to smile but grimly held back tears as she stood next to the beaming Li on the podium.
Li appeared to have Wang beaten in the second game as she brought up two match points, but her Shanghai-born opponent saved both to take the match to a decider.
Li, born in the Yangtze River port of Chongqing, marched to an 8-3 lead in the decider but was reeled in to 17-17.
Both appeared to tire in the final points, but it was Wang who broke down first as she netted a regulation smash to hand Li the momentum.
Li took the chance with both hands, blasting a smash down the line to bring up three match points and then sealing the match when Wang netted a volley.
That gave China their second gold medal for the tournament after Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei thrashed second-seeded compatriots Xu Chen and Ma Jin 21-11 21-17 to win the mixed doubles on Friday.
China remains on track for an unprecedented five-gold sweep of the Olympic tournament, a year after sweeping all five titles at the world championships at the same venue.
India's Saina Nehwal celebrated her country's first Olympic badminton medal after she won the bronze medal decider when China's Wang Xin retired with a knee injury when leading 21-18 1-0.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this