First Olympic medal to Spain, gold, in women’s singles. An Olympic medal to Denmark – first in women’s doubles. An Olympic medal to Great Britain, not in mixed doubles – but in men’s. A men’s singles medal to Denmark - after a 16 year-drought - to an Olympic newcomer.
It is difficult not to be over the moon about the European performances in Rio. History has been made in all sorts of ways. Winning an Olympic medal is an historic achievement in itself for a European player, noting the Asian upper hand, but each performance in Rio has, furthermore, a historic aspect that makes it even more special. And combining all of them - 2016 Olympics has by far been the brought the best results for European badminton.
Carolina Marin – Spain
The leading women’s singles in Spain, is also the leading lady worldwide. Her racy increase on the world ranking, is a result of some very successful seasons, lately with double-European championships, double- world championships and now Olympic champion can be added to her resume. She went to Rio as the favorite and first seed, and lived up to the enormous pressure and expectations by winning the first ever gold-medal for Spanish badminton, and first ever gold-medal in women’s singles for European badminton. Everything Marin does and wins is record-breaking for European and Spanish badminton, and she has proved she is the best, and has a continuing motivation to keep going to become even better in the future.
Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl – Denmark
Denmark has been in the world-top of badminton for generations. This pair is ranked no 5 in the world, has world championship-silver from 2015 and was therefore serious candidates, despite their exit after semi-finals in London 2012. Both Christinna and Kamilla have been close to the big titles in mixed doubles as well, Christinna entering the tournament in both categories. Even though they had a tougher start than expected, their magnificent performances took off from their second match and continued in the quarter- and semi-final. The gold was almost theirs with a 19/16-lead in the third set of the final, but ended up in Japan – which funny enough also was a historic result. If the Danes had won, it would have been the second Olympic gold for Denmark and Europe. But enough history was made for the Danes, and now there is still results to achieve a lot more in store for future Olympics.
There have been a Chinse duo in every single women’s doubles final since 1992, the only other European women’s doubles medal has been of bronze to Russians Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova in 2012. It has never been silver and it has never been Danish.
Chris Langridge and Marcus Ellis – Great Britain
‘Historic’ is the right way to describe this men’s doubles performance when winning a bronze medal. Not only is it the first men’s double medal for Great Britain, who has had a history of great mixed doubles; it is the first big result for the duo Ellis and Langridge, in general. Their position on the world ranking was at 87 in the beginning of 2015, and compared to their bronze-match opponents ranking at that time, we find a difference in 81 spots. Team GB had a couple of favorites going into the Olympics, but to be fair, this duo was not among them. But they have certainly proved to everyone that it does not matter how well you played, but how well you play on the day. They now have a well-deserved bronze-medal around their neck as the only European men’s double from Rio 2016.
Viktor Axelsen – Denmark
It was an emotional day for the only 22-year-old Dane, when he on the last day of the Olympics found himself having defeated the world-famous Lin Dan. It was clear to all that his draw was tough, having two top 20-players in his group. But his level was outstanding, and no one could slow him down until Chen Long put an end to his dreams of reaching the final. Walking into the tournament as the 4th seed, it was not a big surprise to see him reach the semi-finals. But what is incredible about his performance is his way of handling the pressure while reaching those expectations. For some time, he has been foreseen to be the next ‘chosen one’ to join the league of the best men’s singles in the world, normally ruled by Asian superstars. And with this bronze medal, the first to a Danish men’s singles since ’96, he is getting closer to the higher podium-spots in Tokyo 2020. Badminton Denmark have had world-class players the last 20 years, but there has been a drought result-wise at major tournaments. At only 22, Viktor Axelsen has proved that he might be able to break that curse.
With Axelsens medal, Badminton Denmark followed up on the great record they achieved in London 2012; two medals for the same European country.
The sport of badminton as we know it has been played in Europe for more than 200 years, but has only been a part of the Olympic Games since 1992. Seven Olympic championships in 24 years; has left only eleven different countries out of 179 member associations on the podiums, divided unevenly between mostly Asian countries – only five European. Beijing 2008 is a great example of the Asian domination and world-class in high performance badminton, where not a single European was on the podium.
But after Rio 2016, it seems like new times are coming. 96 Olympic badminton-medals have been distributed and only 14 of them belong to European countries. Four of them was won at this Olympics, which shows a steady progress of the European performances at important tournaments. The four medals were in four different categories and proves that the development has been distributed broadly and not only in one category.
Spain, Denmark and Great Britain has made sure the Games in Rio belongs in the history books for European badminton. And it will be exciting to see how much further the European success can expand in the coming years.