Three-time defending Olympic Champion in the men’s singles discipline – China is in a conundrum. The Chinese squad still finds difficulty to even qualify two players for Olympics, let alone defending its title.
Chen Long, who currently stands at no. 5 in the Olympic Qualification ranking table, is the sole qualifier at the moment. Only four precious months remain in the qualification period. The legend Lin Dan is at no. 22, and Shi Yu Qi is at no 27.
A country can send only two representatives in singles to the Olympics, if both of them are within the top 16 in the rankings.
Former two-time gold medalist Lin Dan expressed his thoughts in a recent TV interview.
Lin Dan: “Harsh difficulties lie ahead, (Olympic qualification) points and age are a challenge for me. One of the biggest challenges is to remain committed from 2016 Rio Olympics to Tokyo Olympics and to present my best without holding anything back in the next few months. I really want to compete at the Tokyo Olympics, but it all depends on my performance in the upcoming tournaments.”
In 2019, Lin Dan played 21 tournaments; out of which he reached only three finals. He won only one title, the CELCOM AXIATA Malaysia Open.
Lin Dan, 36 cannot defy his age anymore. He suffered nine first round exits last year.
The other prominent player who is looking to qualify for Tokyo is Shi Yu Qi.
He had an amazing year in 2018 by winning three titles, including the All England and the year ending title HSBC World Tour Finals. He lost out the world championship to Kento Momota of Japan.
Unfortunately, he suffered a major ankle injury in July 2019 at the Indonesian Open. He has not had a full recovery and his attempts at comeback have been far below par.
“It (injury) was quite a disaster for me because it occured at a crucial period, even though I had suffered from injuries in the past as well. For some time, I felt very depressed, basically I just wanted to give up. Thank god I did not choose to give up,” said Shi Yu Qi.
Chen Long made into four finals in 2019. Even though he lost three of them, Chen was able to defend his French Open title.
Unlike Lin Dan and Shi Yu Qi, the major challenges for Chen Long are the strong opponents he faces this time around. He has lost his last three encounters against Japan’s Kento Momota. Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting has an advantage of 8-4 head to head record over him. Viktor Axelsen, Chou Tien Chen and Jonatan Christie may also be named as potential troublemakers for him.
Chen Long said: “I should say that I’m more eager… I know that I will be facing more obstacles this time, there are quite a lot more opponents, but this will bring out my desire and my dream. As long as I’m dreaming for it, I will do my best.”
China has been the powerhouse of men’s singles badminton at the Olympics for more than a decade. It showed its excellence in the last three episodes of the four yearly event. Tokyo 2020 might see Chinese men’s singles discipline fizzle out its dominance.
Who will accompany Chen Long at the Tokyo Olympics? Lin Dan or Shi Yu Qi? Or will it be the first time that China has only a single qualifier?
Co-author: Jax Momo