Legendary Chinese badminton players inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame

ZHANG Ning, CAI Yun and FU Haifeng were key figures in China’s formidable dominance of major Championships during the 2000s and early 2010s.

6 min By olympic-editorialworkflow

Olympic gold medallists ZHANG Ning, CAI Yun and FU Haifeng have been officially inducted into the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Hall of Fame during an online ceremony on Wednesday.

"Zhang Ning, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng are iconic figures from recent years," BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer said, applauding their achievements.

"They played at an incredibly high level which helped them win every major title in badminton. Most importantly, the standards they set will always be a challenge for the younger generations of players who seek to emulate them.

"I congratulate them on entering the BWF Hall of Fame, which is a well-deserved recognition for these three great players from China."

Zhang Ning: Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Seen as a trail-blazer in Chinese women’s singles, Zhang is the first back-to-back Olympic singles gold medallist (Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008). She has won almost every major badminton tournament, including Uber Cup (2004, 2006), Sudirman Cup (2005) and World Championships (2003).

Joining the national team in 1991, Zhang did not achieve her first world title until 2003, during which she suffered a major setback at her Uber Cup debut in 1994. In 2008, after a hard fight with teammate XIE Xingfang, the 33-year-old Zhang succeeded in defending her Olympic gold following Athens 2004. After the win, Zhang fell to the floor and broke down in tears, providing an unforgettable moment for many fans.

"Competing at the Olympic Games held in one’s own country is the biggest honor for an athlete, so I hoped I would still have the chance to contribute for the Chinese team," she said. "I hope that I would get rid of all those pressure and that all the efforts would pay off. I wanted to have a happy ending for my career."

Zhang retired after Beijing 2008. Looking back to her badminton career, Zhang said the final at 2007 Singapore Open remains her most unforgettable moment. After drawing 1-1 against her teammate Xie, Zhang was so exhausted that she thought of giving up. "But at the same time, a voice inside myself asked to carry on to the last set. Then I won the set with 21:3. That match was unforgettable, because what I get from it is not only a championship, but also the power of perseverance."

Zhang Ning2_Olympics 2008
Zhang Ning2_Olympics 2008 (Badmintonphoto)

Fu Haifeng/Cai Yun: Trust is the key

During the past decade, the duo of Fu and Cai have been a vital part of the Chinese team. The two achieved unprecedented success as the only men’s doubles pair to win four World Championships. They have also left their mark at the Olympic Games, winning gold in London 2012 and a silver at Beijing 2008.

In his speech, Fu thanked his long-time partner Cai. "I'd like [to thank the] BWF to offer me an honor of which I would be proud of my whole life. This is a recognition to my badminton career. I’d also like to thank my team and teammates. I am so lucky to have such an excellent partner like Cai Yun.”

After Cai’s retirement, Fu continued to pair with ZHANG Nan and grabbed another gold at Rio 2016. When asked about the difference between his two partners, Fu said, “After pairing up with Zhang, we two started from zero and accumulated our points one match after another. There were times when our performance was not that good, so I was surprised that we won in Rio 2016. When I won with Cai, it’s a joy from deep of the heart. When I won with Zhang, it was more a joy from surprising win.”

Olympic Games 2012_action (2)
Olympic Games 2012_action (2) (Badmintonphoto)

Talking about the key of men’s doubles, Cai said the most important was trust and tolerance.

"Each of us would face down times. Because it’s a collaborate sport, we need to be tolerant towards each other. When two live and train together, it’s inevitable that there would be some frictions. But we have the same goal. It’s because of trust and tolerance that we spent ten years together. This is very precious," he said.

Fu agreed, “Trust and tolerance are very important. Though it’s ideal that every athlete would be 100% concentrated at a match, that’s impossible. So we need to trust our partner. A simple gesture, such as a high five, a look would help a lot.”

Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020

The qualification period for badminton at Tokyo 2020 officially ended on 15 June, with two-time World Championship bronze medalist CHEN Yufei occupying the Race to Tokyo ranking.

Zhang shared her thoughts on the tantalising prospects of the Olympic women’s singles at Tokyo 2020.

“It’s a huge pity that Carolina Marin cannot compete at Tokyo 2020 because of her injury,” she said. “There are several players who are hopeful to be the gold medalist. I would support Chen Yufei for sure. But at the same time, Tai Tzu Ying, OKUHARA Nozomi from the host country, and PV Sindhu from India, they are all competent enough to reach the highest podium. The key lies in whether they can keep a good mindset in the competition and demonstrate their real competence.”

As one who used to coach Chen, Zhang has high expectation towards her. “She has become much more experience and mature with all the training. Tokyo will be her first Olympic Games, but there is a first time for everyone. I hope she can be more ‘domineering’ on the ground and fear nothing. I would like to wish her success.”

On the men’s doubles side, world no.3 LI Junhui and LIU Yuchen are expected to represent China at Tokyo 2020.

Cai is confident with the pair. "The Chinese pair outperformed their Japanese and Indonesia rivals at major tournaments like the World Championships. So I am confident that the two will achieve good result at the Olympic Games.

"The two have excellent performances at past events like the World Championships, Thomas Cup and Sudirman Cup. I believe they are competent enough to have better performance in Tokyo,” Fu added.

The Chinese badminton team has been absent from international competitions since the All England Open last year. Asked how the team should deal with this situation, Zhang said, “Because of the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympic Games are different in many aspects. But the athletes are equally affected by this and the most important thing is to do ones best.”

Badminton gets underway at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza from 24 July.

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