OLYMPICS Day 8 – No. 1 pair goes down fighting

Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng put their nation on the verge of a badminton gold medal sweep while Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen beat the world #1’s to set up, […]

Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng put their nation on the verge of a badminton gold medal sweep while Mathias Boe / Carsten Mogensen beat the world #1’s to set up, remarkably, their first ever final against the Chinese aces.

By Michael Burke, Badzine Correspondent.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (archives)

The Olympic badminton men’s doubles semi-finals saw 83 minutes of incredible play in what was arguably the best match of the tournament so far, with the Danish pair of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen shocking the in-form pair of Jung Jae Sung and Lee Yong Dae in a three-game upset 17-21, 21-18, 22-20.

The Danish pair played their best game of the year to advance after they looked to be outplayed early on, having trailed the entire first game.  The Koreans were solid in defence whilst Boe appeared to suffer from semi-final nerves.  However Mogensen remained calm and having fought well to keep them in the game previously, now fought to keep them in front at their favoured end.

Mogensen managed to lift his partner and between them they managed to break the Korean defence.  Patient blocks, drops and well-angled smashes saw the deep-set Koreans unable to counter attack, Jung in particular uncomfortable at this end.

The final game was a tense affair, the Danes taking the early lead but the Koreans able to recover, going into the mid game interval with a slender single point advantage.  Again the Danes managed to stretch out to a 17-13 lead only to see the Koreans recover to capitalise on some nervous play with the score level at 18-all.

Only single points were exchanged each way until the Danes finally held on to take the game in extra points at the second opportunity when Lee Yong Dae neglected to smash and turned to watch in horror as the last lift descended onto the inside portion of his own sideline.

It was only the Danes’ 5th win and came in the 19th and last meeting between these two pairs in a rivalry that began 6 years ago with Boe/Mogensen beating the Koreans, who were then playing in their first international tournament together.

“It is one of the best,” said Mathias Boe of he and Mogensen’s performance in the semis, “especially under the amount of pressure there is at an .  I still think we have played better but to do it under as much pressure is very good.

“Lee is the best men’s double player in the world so we had to put pressure on Jung.  We managed to put more pressure on him and he broke.  I thought for the third game we were best all the way through but we made a few stupid errors.

“We’ve worked so many years for this.  We had a very bad experience at the last Olympic Games as we were not picked by the national coach as he didn’t think we could win.  We are really proud of how we’ve bounced back and it’s nice to prove him wrong.”

“This is the greatest moment of my life.  Right now I don’t know how I’m feeling,”  added Carsten Mogensen.

“We just tried to relax, even though it was difficult, and play the style we needed to play.  We were a little bit nervous so it was difficult to move.”

Turning silver into gold

The previous semi-final had, by comparison, been a much less impressive affair, as the Malaysian pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong went down to China’s much fancied pair of Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng.  Ranked six places above the Malaysians, the solid Chinese pair exuded class racing to take the first game 21-9 with constant, well-worked attack as Tan in particular struggled to settle into the game.

The second game saw a much-improved performance from Koo and Tan.  More patient in their attacks, they looked a completely different pair.

The Chinese, however, didn’t look troubled early on as their more penetrating attack meant extended rallies were only seen when the Malaysians attacked.  Despite some brilliant creative and deceptive play from Koo, the Chinese built a sizeable lead at 18-13 and whilst this did slip, they managed to maintain a two point lead to the end, the game finishing 21-9, 21-19 in a brisk 34 minutes to see Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng progress to their second straight Olympic final.

“Four years ago we won silver, so we’re so excited about the forthcoming match,” said Fu Haifeng afterward.  “We regret that we couldn’t get gold.

“Four years on, we want to make up for that regret.  It would mean so much to us as a pair and so much for the Chinese team.

“We performed normally.  Malaysia were a bit nervous, it’s the first time for them to get to the semi-final so their performance was unstable.  We were more confident.”

“We played at a much slower a pace and by the time of the second game, it was too late to attack because the Chinese were winning the points,” said Koo Kien Keat.

“It hurts.  I don’t know how I will prepare for this.  No matter how, though, I will be out there ready to fight for the bronze medal.  I just have to try to forget.”

Asked whether he would take in the other semi-final, which followed the China-Malaysia match, Koo showed that the match hadn’t totally drained him of humour: “No, I don’t watch badminton,” he laughed.

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About Michael Burke