The top-ranked Japanese had to fight for every point against determined Danish duo Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl and dug themselves out of a huge hole to win an 18-21, 21-9, 21-19 thriller at the Riocentro.
Trailing 19-16 in the final minutes, Matsutomo and Takahashi won five successive points to crush Denmark’s hopes of a first badminton title in 20 years. By securing victory Matsutomo and Takahashi went one better than compatriots Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa, who won the silver in the event at London 2012.
“In the first game I couldn’t perform very well, but in the second and third games we thought that this was going to be our last match so whether we win or lose we needed to put all our effort in,” said Matsutomo. “In the end all the practice and effort we have put in has paid off.”
An elated Takahashi said: “In the beginning we never thought we could play all six games and now we’ve done it. We gave our best performance and are very happy about that. The highest position we’ve finished in the world championship was 16th, so this Olympics was a huge dream for us. To be able to say that it came true is a wonderful feeling.”
Pedersen and Rytter Juhl won Denmark its second-ever Olympic women’s badminton medal, following in the footsteps of Camilla Martin, who claimed silver in the singles tournament at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
That was little consolation for the pair after defeat, however, with Pedersen saying: “Of course we’re really, really proud that we have won this Olympic medal. But after a match like this and being so close in the third and deciding set, you have to be disappointed.”
Reflecting on how she and Rytter Juhl led 19-16 in the third set, she said: “We did what we could. The Japanese played really well from that point onwards. Maybe a lucky point for us could have helped, but that’s how it is.
"The main challenges against these two Japanese girls are always the same. They have a really strong defence, they’re good at attacking when we’re not ready or don't move fast enough, and it was difficult and hard for us to get points in some tough periods of the match.”
Rytter Juhl thanked the people around her for the amazing support she had received, saying: “We have two coaches here and our physical coach at home in Denmark. Of course our families have been behind us all the time, but in the last two months these three guys have done a great job so I’ll dedicate the medal to them.
There was a surprise in the bronze medal play-off as Republic of Korea’s Jung Kyung-eun and Shin Seung-chan beat China’s Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang losing 21-8, 21-17.