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Asian dominance solidified despite wider world participation
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The Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium which warmly welcomed badminton players from a record of 50 IOC member associations, finally witnessed the solid Asian dominance in the five-event sport with a clean sweep of all medals.

The Beijing Olympic badminton tournament was labelled as "excellent" by Jacques Rogge, the Chairman of International Olympic Committee (IOC), who was deeply impressed by the enthusiasm of Chinese spectators and the wonderful performance of badminton players after watching the bronze medal final of women's singles on the spot.

The compliment from the IOC Chairman undoubtedly will alleviate the crisis faced by badminton, a junior member of the IOC family which is in danger of being kicked out of the Olympics competition as its popularity all over the world is widely questioned.

The sport which made its debut at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, however, is by and large saved by badminton fans, both spectators and TV viewers, whose participation greatly boost the development of badminton, and thus improve the ranking of the sport among the Olympic programme.

It has been widely believed that the Beijing Olympic Games would work as huge impetus to the sport, as this is the first time that the Games is hosted in a badminton powerhouse.

"The popularity of badminton will increase dramatically after the Beijing Olympic Games," thanks to the big jump of viewers and the influence of China, Kang Young-Joong, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) President told Xinhua.

The Olympic Games badminton matches were among the first tickets to sell out, and the viewership rate of badminton at the Games apparently will set a new record. A new qualifying system introduced by the BWF has greatly encouraged the participation of countries and regions, the number of which increased from 32 in Athens to 50 in Beijing.

However, the enlargement of worldwide participation couldn't stop the declining trend of European shuttlers, who had pocketed seven medals in the previous four Olympics, but failed to claim a single medal at the Beijing Games.

The total 15 medals in five disciplines were shared by China, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, all long-time members of the traditional elite group, among which China is still the reigning power, bagging three golds, two silvers and two bronzes, almost half of the total medals.

What's more worrisome for Europeans is that most of the real competitors from the Europe are over 30, including 31-year-old Peter Gade from Denmark in men's singles, 38-year-old Jen Eriksen from Denmark in men's doubles, 31-year-old Gail Emms from Britain in mixed doubles, who all announced their impending retirement in one or two years.

On the contrary, men's singles champion Lin Dan from China, men's doubles champions Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan from Indonesia are still at their prime age, while women's doubles champions Du Jing and Yu Yang from China, mixed doubles champion Lee Yong-dae from South Korea are just up-and-coming, and set to dominate their respective events for a couple of years.

It is encouraging that some players from other European countries are fledging on the support of the three training centers sponsored by the BWF, among whom Olga Konon from Belarus and Kestutis Navickas from Lithuania had drastically increased their world rankings after the training, and reached the round of 16 in women's singles and men's singles surprisingly.

The BWF is considering more investment on a four-year training program, hosting a two-week-long camp four times a year for athletes from developing and less developed countries to obtain a high level training, According to Roger Johansson, Development Committee Chairman of the BWF.

"This time we have brought players from 50 NOCs, and the next goal is medals in London," said Johansson, hoping that the players trained at the centers could make some breakthrough at the next Olympics.

(Xinhua News Agency August 18, 2008)

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