Em­bat­tled coach call­ing for calm after Rio storm

China Daily (USA) - - RIO OLYMPICS - By REUTERS

China’s fail­ure to de­fend three of its bad­minton ti­tles at the Rio Games was a shock for a na­tion ac­cus­tomed to dom­i­nat­ing the Olympic courts, but head coach Li Yongbo called for calm amid the storm of crit­i­cism.

Four years after win­ning all five ti­tles at the Lon­don Games, China grabbed two golds and a bronze to top the Rio medals ta­ble, but it was the na­tion’s low­est haul at an Olympics for 20 years.

With teams re­stricted to two en­trants in the sin­gles, down from three in Lon­don, the bad­minton su­per­power had fewer chances to win medals.

How­ever, the ab­sence of a Chi­nese woman on the podium for both the sin­gles and dou­bles was a ma­jor set­back.

Li has been the face of Chi­nese bad­minton for more than a decade and sur­vived a num­ber of con­tro­ver­sies by de­liv­er­ing un­prece­dented re­sults at global and Olympic tour­na­ments.

But the 53-year-old has been lam­basted on­line over the team’s per­for­mance in Rio, with calls for his res­ig­na­tion.

China will lose at least two of its gold medal­ists to re­tire­ment, with dou­bles veteran FuHaifeng and twotime sin­gles champ Lin Dan play­ing their last Games.

Zhao Yun­lei, who won mixed dou­bles gold in Lon­don and took bronze in Rio, is also tipped to quit be­fore the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

Li said China had lit­tle to fear about the pass­ing of the golden gen­er­a­tion, but con­ceded there will be more chal­lenges as ri­val na­tions close the gap.

“Some­times you’re strong, some­times you fall back,” he said.

“In­done­sia was once strong and Den­mark, too. China has risen up, but the cham­pi­ons even­tu­ally re­tire and the next gen­er­a­tion comes up slowly. So there will be some dif­fi­cul­ties. This is nor­mal.

“But China will still have top play­ers com­pet­ing in fu­ture be­cause we have a lot of ju­niors at high lev­els.

“After these Games, our next gen­er­a­tion will be strong. For a coun­try to main­tain its ex­cel­lence it def­i­nitely needs to em­pha­size sys­temic tal­ent de­vel­op­ment and very good train­ing sys­tems. China has, so I am not wor­ried about the fu­ture.”

In­done­sia, Spain and Ja­pan won the other ti­tles in Rio.

“Bad­minton is de­vel­op­ing on all sides,” Li said. “But there is no point judg­ing ev­ery­one else’s progress, it’s a mat­ter of con­cen­trat­ing on your own.

“It is fair to saywe have more dif­fi­cul­ties than be­fore, but that does not mean we are go­ing to fall be­hind.”

MARCELO DEL POZO / REUTERS

Chen Long cel­e­brates with coach Li Yongbo after win­ning his quar­ter­fi­nal match last week.

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