TOKYO: Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen received royal approval after winning badminton gold on Monday (Aug 2) to break Asia’s stranglehold, then warned he intends to reign over the sport for some time to come.
Axelsen beat China’s defending champion Chen Long 21-15, 21-12 in the men’s singles final, becoming the first non-Asian to claim the title since 1996.
The world number two sobbed in disbelief after Chen hit the final shot long, then regained his composure to take a courtside phone call from Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik.
“He just told me that it was amazing to see and he knows that I’ve worked really hard for this and big congrats,” said Axelsen, who did not lose a single game in Tokyo.
“Obviously it means a lot to me.”
Axelsen took control of the match early and never loosened his grip, constantly turning the screw to give world number six Chen few opportunities.
The Dane won bronze at the 2016 Rio Games – losing to Chen in the semi-finals – and he said the experience made him “really hungry to do even better” in Tokyo.
He achieved that with a series of dominant performances, but warned he can still improve.
“The titles are great and all, but the biggest driver for me to continue is to keep getting better and compete with strong guys like these,” said the 27-year-old, who speaks fluent Chinese.
“It gives me a lot of motivation to compete and see if I can get better. It’s more the journey rather than the end station.”
Axelsen described Chen as his “inspiration” and rushed to exchange shirts with his opponent after the match.
Chen was aiming to emulate Chinese badminton legend Lin Dan in retaining his Olympic title.
He admitted the five years since he won in Rio had been “very long” with many “self-doubts”, but he was satisfied with his overall performance.
“Although I didn’t win gold, from my first day in Tokyo until today, I played every match according to my plan,” said the 32-year-old.
“I’m not as good as the gold medallist, but I’m the second best.”
Axelsen followed in the footsteps of Danish compatriot Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen, the Atlanta Games champion and last winner from outside Asia.
Hoyer-Larsen, now world badminton’s president, was in the arena to watch Axelsen match his achievement.
“When you win an Olympic final in straight games like this against Cheng Long, I think you can say that you’ve been at least really, really close to your best,” said Axelsen.
World number one Kento Momota had exited the competition in the group stage, opening the way for the Dane.
REWARD AT LAST
Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting took bronze, beating gutsy Guatemalan world number 59 Kevin Cordon 21-11, 21-13.
Ginting’s win gave Indonesia two medals on the final day of badminton, after Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu claimed gold in the women’s doubles.
It was Indonesia’s first Olympic title in women’s doubles, and the country’s first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.
Polii, 33, said her years of “passion and commitment” had been rewarded.
The win marked an incredible turnaround for Polii, who was ready to quit the sport five years ago when her partner Nitya Krishinda Maheswari needed knee surgery following the pair’s quarter-final defeat at the Rio Games.
It also helped wipe away the bitter memory of London in 2012, when she and partner Meiliana Jauhari were thrown out for deliberately losing a group match to secure a more favourable draw.
“I just keep the passion and commitment – it takes commitment to reach your dream,” said an emotional Polii, whose brother died of COVID-19 in December last year, one day after her wedding.
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