Shuttle towards promising future

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Without superstars like retired legend Lin Dan and BWF Hall of Famer Zhang Ning, a new generation of Chinese badminton players are fighting hard to repeat the glory of their predecessors on the international stage. Impressive performances over the course of 2022 indicate that the young Team China is heading toward a promising future.

Team China's aces finished the 2022 season by pocketing three gold and three bronze medals at the BWF World Tour Finals in Bangkok in early December. While Team China conducted a golden sweep in the doubles, it struggled to reach the top step of the podium in the singles.

"We've been together for almost nine years, and gold at the finals is the best prize for all of us. We have encountered many difficulties on our journey, but I never thought about giving up," said Chen Qingchen, who partnered with Jia Yifan, won the women's doubles gold at the finals. The world No 1 women's pair maintained a consistent performance throughout 2022.

"When we first started our partnership, I thought about the many possibilities that lay ahead. And we have been working hard to make those possibilities a reality for a long time. Now I just want to enjoy the moment. Actually, we don't need to think too much about the results. As along as we fight the hardest we can, we will have no regrets."

Another golden pair is Chinese mixed doubles aces Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong, who also claimed top spot at the finals. It's the 10th gold medal finish that the pair have achieved last year.

"What an amazing year 2022 has been, I just want to thank everyone who's been with us," Zheng wrote on social media after the pair's win at the finals. And Huang posted: "A happy ending to 2022."

To deliver such great performances throughout last year was nearly an unthinkable goal for the pair at the start of the season. After pocketing silver at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Zheng and Huang struggled for months, which resulted in the pair's separation. But even with new partners, the two still couldn't find their groove.

Zheng and Huang rekindled their partnership in March, almost immediately finding the chemistry that had so far eluded them, claiming 10 international titles in the 2022 season and producing an impressive winning streak of 38 games. In December, Zheng and Huang were both bestowed with BWF Player of the Year Awards.

"We could feel the pressure from the crowd at the finals. We had to constantly adjust our mindset, focusing only on our games. Most of the time, we could only hear each other on the court, despite all the noise. We are happy to meet the expectations of the fans, and this is truly a happy ending," said Huang.

The biggest surprise at the finals was actually the young gold medal-winning Chinese men's doubles pair Liu Yuchen and Ou Xuanyi. The pair only started their partnership in March, yet they made five international tournament finals this season, winning three golds. The duo is now considered to be a promising medal hope for Team China at the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.

"We're very happy to win the championship, it was one of our goals. And we're so thankful to the fans for always cheering for us," said 27-year-old Liu.

"This is a good way to the end the year for us, and puts us in a good frame of mind for 2023. Our hard work has been rewarded. We were leading (in the final) but made many mistakes. We were able to readjust in time, and in the third game we kept our focus to win.

"This is the first year of our partnership. We played better in the second half of the year, but we still have a lot of room for improvement."

Growing singles aces

Team China was once a dominant force at singles competitions, with the best example being retired singles legend Lin Dan, a two-time Olympic champion and five-time world champion. And on the women's side, a group of stars, including two-time Olympic champion Zhang Ning, made sure Team China was always on the top step of the podium.

However, when these superstars decided to hang up their rackets and leave the court, Team China's singles dominance went with them. This was never more obvious than at December's finals. No Chinese player made it into the men's singles final, while two Chinese women finished in third and fourth places, respectively.

The best hope for Team China on the men's side is Shi Yuqi. The 26-year-old was suspended by the Chinese Badminton Association after his controversial behavior in the semifinals of the Thomas Cup in October 2021. After his 10-month suspension, the star returned in style, participating in six tournaments in the 2022 season, finishing the year with two golds at the Denmark Open and the Australian Open.

There are high expectations that Shi will become the next Chinese superstar in the men's singles arena, and he is moving steadily toward meeting them.

"I returned for four months and I won two gold medals. That's really unthinkable, even for myself. I want to thank the national team, my coach, my family and all the people who have been helping me. I will use this momentum to try even harder in the future," Shi said after winning the Australian Open.

For the women, the biggest star is the Tokyo Olympic women's singles champion Chen Yufei, who won a bronze at the BWF World Tour Finals. The 24-year-old has yet to become a dominant force in the women's singles on the world stage.

"There's still a long way to go. I want to congratulate all the Chinese players who made their breakthrough this year, which proved that all of our hard work has paid off. We will try harder to reclaim glory in the future," Chen wrote on social media.

Against all odds

All the setbacks, and the hard-earned victories in 2022 have at least shown the Chinese badminton team a clear, if arduous, path forward. It's a journey which hopefully ends in glory at the 2024 Paris Olympics. For the CBA's president Zhang Jun, hopes are high and he's confident in his team to fight against all the odds.

"Due to the pandemic, many international events were canceled or postponed, which greatly influenced our plans. To minimize the impact of such things, we have employed many creative methods and keep making adjustments. For example, we established a training base in Thailand," Zhang told

According to Zhang, the biggest challenge for Team China was to consecutively participate in 14 international tournaments outside China this year, which required a huge logistical effort, as well as concerns over safety and quality training facilities.

"Overall, I think we have produced a great performance this year. There are victories, setbacks and surprises, but that is all part of the charm of competitive sports," Zhang added.

"The team's ability to make adjustments, our mentality shown on and off the court and the communication among the veterans and the young players, all give me confidence en route to Paris."

Zhang believes that the shortened time gap between Tokyo and Paris Games will give the current core players of Team China, who will face small challenges brought by injuries and age, an advantage. But for the young players, the pressure is high.

"The three-year gap between the two Olympics means the time they have to grow is also shortened. And for the team, we need to focus more on the current core players who have a better chance of success in Paris," said Zhang.

"International badminton is very competitive now. There are many great players from other associations. But for us, the goal remains the same — to win all five golds in Paris."

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