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China poised for Sydney encore in badminton

Posted: Saturday August 7, 2004 5:29PM; Updated: Saturday August 7, 2004 5:29PM
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LONDON, Aug 6 (Reuters) -- China won four of the five Olympic badminton golds at the Sydney Games, making up for modest showings in Atlanta and Barcelona, and their markers are firmly down for Athens.

Only Denmark's golden boy Peter Gade, his ex-fiancee Camilla Martin and Mia Audina Tjiptawan, the former Indonesian teenage prodigy who now plays for the Netherlands, look capable of spoiling the party.

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China's men's singles gold medallist in Sydney, Ji Xinpeng, has retired, as have women's singles winner Gong Zhichao and the women's doubles pairing of Ge Fei and Gu Jun.

Despite the departures, when Athens Olympic qualification, based on world rankings, closed at the end of April, China emerged as the most represented country of the 32 nations who will be at the badminton tournament.

China underlined their Olympic claims with impressive victories in Jakarta in May in the Thomas and Uber Cup finals, the sport's prestige team tournaments where most of their top medal hopes performed with distinction.

In Athens, they have 13 entries across the sport's five disciplines, including the maximum of three in both of the singles events and the women's doubles.

In the prestige men's singles, the Chinese field All England champion Lin Dan, a dynamic 20-year-old, backed up by the equally formidable Chen Hong and Bao Chunlai.

Such is their strength that China have even allowed themselves the luxury of omitting world champion Xia Xuanze.

World number three Wong Choong Hann of Malaysia has the game to do well and Denmark's Gade, back to his best after injury, made Lin battle all the way at the All Englands in March.

Gade, 27, won the European title and seeks in Athens to emulate compatriot Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen, gold medallist in Atlanta in 1996.

Martin, 30, is in her farewell year on the circuit and a gold medal in the women's singles would be a super send-off after a decade of battling virtually alone against the powerhouse Chinese.

The Dane won silver in Sydney but she had to be taken off court at the All Englands with an ankle injury. Then at the Europeans in April, she lost in the semi-finals to Audina Tjiptawan.

As plain Mia Audina 10 years ago, the teenager clinched the Uber Cup women's team title for a grateful Indonesia and went on to take Olympic silver in Atlanta in 1996.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since without the prodigy fulfilling the early promise.

Now aged 24, she looked near the finished article earlier this year, winning the Japan Open and the European championship and could ruffle the feathers of the Chinese, who are headed by world number one Gong Ruina, Zhang Ning and Zhou Mi.

Among the lesser lights, a small cheer may go up in Canada when their veteran Denyse Julien, steps on to the mixed doubles court at the age of 43. Julien has been at every Olympics since the sport was first introduced to the Games programme in 1992.

Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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