Badminton at the Olympics: A brief history

Included as a medal event in the Olympics in 1992, badminton has emerged as one of the most entertaining sports to watch at the Summer Games.

10 min By Rahul Venkat
Rio 2016 badminton women's singles medal ceremony. 
(Picture by 2016 Getty Images)

A sport that traces its origin back to ancient India, China, and Greece, badminton is one of the most engaging sports in the world.

The thrill of watching a badminton match, with the rapid exchange of shots that need quicksilver reflexes, is simply unparalleled. Badminton has thus carved a niche for itself as one of the elite sports in the world.

It now has a biennial world championship hosted by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) and makes regular Olympic appearances.

Badminton’s first appearance at the Olympic Games came as a demonstration sport in 1972 at Munich. It became a medal event at Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

The rather late introduction to the Summer Games meant that legendary shuttlers like Liem Swie King, Prakash Padukone, Morten Frost, Li Lingwei and Han Aiping never got to play an Olympics – where a medal is considered one of the most prestigious achievements.

However, badminton’s Olympic era has thrown up new stars, both men and women. Let’s take a look at a brief history of badminton at the Olympics:

Barcelona 1992: Indonesia, South Korea make a clean sweep

The first player to win an Olympic badminton medal was Indonesian Susi Susanti, who came from a game down to beat South Korea’s Bang Soo-Hyun in the women’s singles final. Incidentally, it was also Indonesia’s first-ever Olympic gold.

They would soon add to that tally as Alan Budikusuma beat compatriot Ardy Wiranata in the men’s singles to ensure Indonesia took away both singles gold medals.

Susi Susanti won the first-ever Olympic medal in badminton.
Susi Susanti won the first-ever Olympic medal in badminton.

South Korean pair Kim Moon-soo and Park Joo-bong won the men’s doubles gold while their countrywomen Hwang Hye-young and Chung So-young won gold in the women’s doubles.

Of the 16 medals on offer – both losing semi-finalists won bronze in each category - Asian countries won 15. It would set the tone of Asian domination of Olympic badminton in the years to come.

The sole non-Asian Olympic medallist among either players or pairs was Denmark’s Thomas Stuer-Lauridsen, who won a bronze in the men’s singles.

Indian badminton had three shuttlers at the event – Deepankar Bhattacharya, U Vimal Kumar, and Madhumita Bisht – all of whom were former national champions.

Bhattacharya made it to the third round, Bisht the second round while Vimal Kumar exited in the first round in the singles. Bhattacharya and Vimal Kumar also competed together in the men’s doubles but bowed out in the opening round.

Atlanta 1996: Mixed doubles enters the fold

While there were only four categories – men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, and women’s doubles – for badminton’s Olympic debut at Barcelona 1992, a fifth category – mixed doubles -- was added at Atlanta 1996.

Starting with this edition, the bronze medal winner was decided by having a playoff between the two losing semi-finalists, which kept the total medal count to 15.

Asian nations swept the medals tally at Atlanta 1996, winning 14 of the 15 Olympic badminton medals on offer, with Denmark being the sole other medallist.

However, this time Dane Poul Erik Hoyer-Larsen clinched gold in the men’s singles. South Korean Bang Soo-hyun went one step further than the previous edition to win the women’s singles gold while Susi Susanti also won her second Olympic medal – a bronze.

Poul Erik Hoyer-Larsen is Denmark’s first Olympic badminton gold-medallist.
Poul Erik Hoyer-Larsen is Denmark’s first Olympic badminton gold-medallist. (Stu Forster /Allsport /Getty Images)

South Korea’s Kim Dong-moon and Gil Young-ah were crowned the first mixed doubles Olympic badminton champions.

Malaysia’s Rashid Sidek meanwhile became the third member of his family to win an Olympic bronze (men’s singles) after his elder brothers Razif Sidek and Jalani Sidek had won the men’s doubles bronze together at Barcelona 1992.

There were only two Indian badminton players at the Olympics that year. Deepankar Bhattacharya made his second appearance – where he again bowed out in the second round while PVV Lakshmi – the now wife of chief national team coach Pullela Gopichand – also fell in the second round.

Sydney 2000: China wins first singles gold

China went on to largely dominate the badminton fold in the new millennium and the seeds were sown at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

Ji Xinpeng won the men’s singles gold while Gong Zhichao clinched gold in the women’s singles. The Chinese women’s doubles pair of Ge Fei and Gu Jun won their second-consecutive gold while Zhang Jun and Gao Ling won yet another gold for China in the mixed doubles, with the latter also clinching bronze in the women’s doubles.

China won an incredible four of the five singles and doubles golds at Sydney 2000 with Indonesia clinching the other as Tony Gunawan and Candra Wijaya won the men’s doubles gold.

Asian nations won 13 of the 15 medals on offer. Once again, Denmark prevented a clean sweep for Asia as Camilla Martin won the women’s singles silver. The edition also fetched a first Olympic badminton medal for Great Britain as Simon Archer and Joanne Goode won the mixed doubles bronze.

Pullela Gopichand made his Olympic debut at Sydney 2000 – where he made it to the pre-quarterfinals before falling to eventual silver medallist Hendrawan. Aparna Popat was the only other Indian shuttler at the event and she fell in the opening round.

Athens 2004: The making of legends

Considered one of the finest players of his generation, and one of the greatest-ever, Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat won his only Olympic medal – a men’s singles gold - at Athens 2004.

Another modern-day legend Zhang Ning of China won the women’s singles gold while Gao Ling and Zhang Jun won their second-consecutive Olympic gold in the mixed doubles.

Gao Ling would also win silver in the women’s doubles with Huang Sui, making it four Olympic medals for Ling – the most by any badminton player in Olympic history.

Gao Ling (left) has won a record four Olympic badminton medals.
Gao Ling (left) has won a record four Olympic badminton medals. (2004 Getty Images)

Denmark continued their streak of winning medals at each edition of the Olympics as Jens Eriksen and Mette Schjoldager won the mixed doubles bronze while Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson ensured a second Olympic badminton medal for Great Britain with the mixed doubles silver.

Athens 2004 also brought about a first Olympic badminton medal for the Netherlands as Mia Audina won the women’s singles silver. It was a second Olympic silver for Audina – who had won her first at Atlanta 1996, but she was then representing Indonesia.

Among Indian badminton players, Aparna Popat made her second appearance where she fell in the pre-quarterfinals to Audina while Abhinn Shyam Gupta and Nikhil Kanetkar made their Olympic debuts in men’s singles.

Gupta exited in the opening round while Kanetkar fell in the Round of 16.

Beijing 2008: Zhang Ning creates history

This was the first edition to introduce the 21 points per game system at the Olympics – it was only 15 points earlier.

Chinese legend Zhang Ning chose the perfect place to create history when she beat compatriot Xie Xingfang to win the women’s singles gold. It made her the first woman to win consecutive Olympic singles golds.

Zhang Ning is the first woman to win consecutive Olympic badminton singles gold medals.
Zhang Ning is the first woman to win consecutive Olympic badminton singles gold medals. (2008 Getty Images)

The legendary Lin Dan also won his first Olympic medal when he beat Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei to clinch the men’s singles gold. It would be the beginning of a historic rivalry between the duo.

This was also the first edition where Asian nations swept all the medals, resulting in the first time that Denmark was unable to win an Olympic badminton medal.

Beijing 2008 brought about an Olympic debut for Saina Nehwal as a 20-year-old. She created waves as she made it to the women’s singles quarter-finals. The only other Indian badminton player at the event was Anup Sridhar and he was eliminated in the second round of the men’s singles.

London 2012: History for Indian badminton

The beginning of the Indian badminton revolution started at the 2012 Olympics in London as Saina Nehwal won the country’s first Olympic badminton medal – a bronze in the women’s singles.

Her now-husband Parupalli Kashyap also made history as he became the first male Indian badminton player to reach the quarter-finals. The edition was also the Olympic debut for the doubles pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa and Gutta teamed up with V Diju in the mixed doubles.

Meanwhile, Lin Dan also made history as he won a second-consecutive Olympic gold in the men’s singles beating famed rival Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia yet again.

The Chinese swept all the gold medals as Li Xuerui won the women’s singles, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng won the men’s doubles, Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei won the women’s doubles, and Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei won the mixed doubles.

Rio 2016: Carolina Marin breaks Asian stronghold

Since badminton’s Olympics introduction at Barcelona 1992, all the women’s singles gold had been won by Asian nations. That changed with Spaniard Carolina Marin’s win at Rio 2016.

Marin became the first European woman to win the Olympic gold when she beat PV Sindhu in an epic final. Sindhu’s silver was the beginning of the Indian badminton star’s steady rise to the top as she later went on to become India’s first world champion.

Carolina Marin (right) is the first European woman to become Olympic champion.
Carolina Marin (right) is the first European woman to become Olympic champion. (2016 Getty Images)

The 2016 Summer Olympics spelt heartbreak for the legendary Lee Chong Wei, where he had finally beaten Lin Dan in the semis to make his third-consecutive Olympic final. However, he could not break his gold drought as he was condemned to a third Olympic silver by China’s Chen Long.

Fu Haifeng won a second-consecutive Olympic men’s doubles gold, this time with Zhang Nan while Japan won its first-ever Olympic badminton gold when Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi won the women’s doubles.

Apart from PV Sindhu, Rio 2016 was also the Olympic debut for former world No. 1 Kidambi Srikanth and the men’s doubles pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy. Attri-Reddy exited in the group stages while Srikanth fell in the quarter-finals.

Saina Nehwal and the pair of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa also played at Rio 2016 but bowed out in the group stages.

Tokyo 2020: Viktor Axelsen denies Asian clean-sweep

With reigning champion Carolina Marin forced to sit out of Tokyo 2020 due to injury, China’s Chen Yufei won the women’s singles gold and helped Asia regain its hold over the title.

Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-ying lost in the final but ended her long wait for an Olympic medal with the silver. The bronze, meanwhile, went to PV Sindhu, who became the first Indian woman in history to win two individual Olympic medals.

PV Sindhu is the first Indian woman to win two individual Olympic medals.
PV Sindhu is the first Indian woman to win two individual Olympic medals. (2021 Getty Images)

In men’s singles, Danish ace Viktor Axelsen beat reigning champion Chen Long in the final to become only the second non-Asian player to capture the Olympic gold in the event. The first, incidentally, was his fellow countryman Poul Erik Hoyer-Larsen 21 years back.

Axelsen was also the only non-Asian badminton player to win a medal at Tokyo.

Indonesia’s Anthony Sinisuka Ginting clinched the men’s singles bronze. B Sai Praneeth was the sole Indian in the fray in the event but exited his maiden Olympic Games from the group stage after failing to win a single match.

India’s men’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy, meanwhile, were unlucky. Despite beating the eventual gold medallists, Lee Wang and Wang Chi-lin of the Chinese Taipei, in the group stage, the Indian duo missed out on the knockouts based on points difference.

China’s Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen, the reigning world champions, took silver while Malaysia’s Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik snagged the bronze.

Both women’s and mixed doubles also saw Asians clean-sweep the podium.

Indonesia’s Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu won gold in women’s doubles, with China’s Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan bagging the silver and South Korea’s Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong securing bronze.

Mixed doubles saw a 1-2 finish for China with Wang Yilyu-Huang Dongping and Zheng Siwei-Huang Yaqiong taking the gold and silver respectively. Home favourites Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino ensured the bronze for Japan.

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