No Carolina Marin: Will badminton see an All-Asian podium finish at Tokyo Olympics?
In a manner of restoring order, Carolina Marin's absence from the Tokyo Olympics is only telling of what the podium will look like once the Games ensue.
It would be unfair to say that nobody saw it coming. Hailing from Huleva, on the outskirts of Spain, Carolina Marin had already taken the badminton world by storm before she entered the 2016 Rio Olympics as the World No. 1. Raising quite a number of eyebrows with her performances, Carolina Marin encroached into what was chiefly Asian territory with her destructive smashes and deafening roars. The clarion call had been sounded - the left-handed power shuttler Carolina Marin was here and she wasn't daunted by the Asian wall formed by Li Xuerei, Tai Tzu Ying, PV Sindhu, Akane Yamaguchi, Nozomi Okuhara.
While Indian fans rejoiced at the prospect of then World No.5 PV Sindhu gallantly striding into the Olympic finals on her debut outing, Europe too rejoiced as Carolina Marin eased into the gold medal encounter. Replete with jaw-dropping moments, a lot of blood, sweat and tears - the 2016 Rio Olympic women's singles final was a nerve-wracking thriller to witness. Standing on the brink of history, Carolina Marin aspired to be the first ever European woman to bag a gold in badminton and Sindhu desired to improve on Saina Nehwal's 2012 London Olympics bronze.
Starting off on a strong footing, PV Sindhu exhibited why the Asians have been dominating the sport by winning the first game, 19-21. However, a 2-time World Champion then, Marin wasn't ready to be routed towards a silver so easily and notched up her game. What followed was an intense battle that lasted a gruelling 1 hour 23 minutes and saw both players giving it their absolute all before Marin edged past, 19-21, 21-12, 21-15 and created history instantaneously. Performing the unimaginable act of breaching the Asian wall - Carolina Marin, became the first European woman to win the Olympic gold medal and put the stamp of another continent on the pages of the quadrennial Games.
Absence of Carolina Marin prompts an all-Asian podium finish
As luck would have it, Carolina Marin suffered a ACL tear in her left knee during a practice session recently and jeopardised her chances of defending her Olympic title. Having to undergo surgery, the 27-year-old's hopes of going to Tokyo were immediately dashed. While this news was deeply upsetting for badminton fans, it also meant that the Asian players can resume their dominance again.
With Carolina Marin out of the picture, the Tokyo Olympics is well en route to see the usual all-Asian podium finish. Aside from the World No. 4 Marin, the only non-Asian players in the mix are Canada's Michelle Li and America's Beiwen Zhang. While the chances of them posing serious threats deem most unlikely, it would be only fair to cast our eyes towards Tai Tzu Ying, Chen Yufei, Akane Yamaguchi, PV Sindhu and Nozomi Okuhara to battle it out for the top honours.
In a manner of restoring order, Carolina Marin's absence from the Tokyo Olympics is only telling of what the podium will look like once the Games ensue from July 23rd. With fourteen players out of the sixteen qualifying for the Olympics belonging to Asian nations, it will be surprising if the order is not reset this year.
The story of Carolina Marin - European Champion. World Champion. Olympic Champion
Synonymous with the Spanish football team who gloriously lifted the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the legacy of Rafael Nadal, the undisputed King of Clay, badminton as a sport in Spain was never taken seriously. Naturally, nobody could have predicted the meteoric rise of Carolina Marin when she broke into the circuit in a rather unassuming manner. Working like a magnet, Marin attracted all the major BWF titles to herself and began chipping at the Asian stronghold over badminton.
A sincere fan of Rafael Nadal, Marin is often referred to as the 'Girl Nadal' for her power-packed style of playing and of course, her roars can also contest with that of the 20-time Grand Slam champion's. Coached by Fernando Rivas, the flamenco loving Marin was a force to reckon with from the very beginning of her career and was always destined for success.
Badminton, not being a popular sport in Spain, acted as a deterring factor for Carolina Marin in the initial years. With Denmark being the only European country to threaten the Asian monopoly in the sport, the chances of Spain ever making it big was faced with a pressing question mark. However, a former World No. 1, Marin, now 27, is one of the best in the business - having almost every BWF title to her name aside from being a 3-time World Champion and a 5-time European Championships winner.
Speaking to the Olympic Channel in an interview, her coach Fernando Rivas noted, "We have been able to break down barriers, doors, walls. And we have garnered respect in the badminton world. Now when we travel to Asia, we are no longer the outsiders from Spain. Now they respect, they acknowledge us. It is a good feeling. It has been difficult to get here."
While the journey hasn't been a cakewalk for Carolina Marin, she has had her fair share of injuries to deal with as well. But, the true Champion that she is, she has always found a way to bounce back, train hard and go for the kill in the biggest of tournaments.
In fact, Marin recalls: "I remember my first conversation with my coach Fernando. He asked me, 'What do you want to achieve as a badminton player?' And I said that I wanted to be the best out of everyone. European champion. World Champion. Olympic Champion," in an interview with Olympic Channel, before the 2016 Rio Games. Having ticked all of these boxes, Carolina Marin has exemplified her passion for the sport and her determination to be the best.
The reason behind the Asian dominance in badminton
The foremost reason for badminton's popularity as a sport in the Asian countries is the tale of its roots. Originating chiefly in British India, badminton has always had a leaning towards this side of the world. However, there are other technical factors to contribute to the almost impenetrable Asian supremacy at play.
Ever since badminton was included at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, it has been dictated by the Asians. First it was Indonesia with their star shuttlers - Susi Susanti, Alan Budikusuma, Ardy Wiranata before Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan, Zhang Ning took over charge completely. The lone European to have bagged a gold before this was Poul-Erik Hoyer Larsen from Denmark when he clinched the yellow metal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Owing to its wide-scale popularity Asian countries have invested in the growth of the sport. In China, which leads the Olympic medal tally in badminton with 41 medals, or even in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan - the government plays a fulcrum role in nurturing badminton and creating medallists. With the availability of proper funding, dedicated training schools, plenty of coaches, players are scoured from the large talent pool these countries come to boast of.
Being the fastest racquet sport, badminton demands litheness and agility like no other. Asians, with their small build are able to make for quick movement on the court and reap maximum benefits out of this. However, aside from the physicality, Asians succeed majorly in badminton because of the support from the government which treats it as a major sport. In the Western nations, including Europe, tennis, football, basketball take precedence over this shuttle sport instead.