They’ve won just once in five games, but Canada’s Michelle Li and Alex Bruce have become something of a sensation at the Olympics and they could yet win a bronze medal in doubles badminton.
Such is the state of the women’s doubles tournament which is still reeling from a scandal that saw eight players ejected for tanking matches in preliminary play to get a more favourable spot in the elimination round. The expulsions put the Canadians into the quarter-finals, despite not winning a single set in all three preliminary-round matches.
Somehow the second chance has breathed new life into the Canadians. They beat the Australians in the quarter-finals Wednesday and took the fourth-seeded Japanese team to the limit in the semis on Thursday before losing 12-21, 21-19, 13-21. They will play a team from Russia for the bronze medal Saturday.
“Even though we lost I think we played probably the best that we’ve ever played,” said Bruce, 22, from Toronto. “I think we showed that belief is an important thing. Canada has never done this well. It should be a sign to all the underdog countries that if you really work hard and just grind it out and believe in yourself, anything can happen.”
On paper the game against Japan never should have gone three sets. Coming into the tournament the Japanese stood fifth in the Badminton World Federation rankings and the Canadians 27th. The Japanese entered the elimination round 2-1 and had thrashed a team from Denmark in straight sets in the quarter-finals.
“We kind of learned from the pool play and when we heard that we got a second chance we really put everything out there,” said Li, 20, from Markham, Ont.
Indeed, with a large backing from a rowdy crowd that waved Canadian flags and chanted “Bruce Li”, the pair had the Japanese frustrated throughout much of the match.
The Canadians still lost and their finish in London will always be marred by the expulsions on Wednesday, which included the world champions from China, two top teams from South Korea and a team from Indonesia.
The reverberations from the ejections were still being felt Thursday. All of the players have been kicked out of the athletes’ village and the International Olympic Committee has ordered the three national Olympic committees to investigate whether coaches or other team officials were involved in the match rigging. One of the Chinese players, Yu Yang also announced she is quitting badminton.
The Chinese players weren’t talking about the scandal Thursday and brushed quickly past Western reporters. But many other players were.
“It’s very bad for the image of the game,” said Nina Vislova of Russia who, along with teammate Valeria Sorokina, was also promoted into the elimination round because of the scandal and will play Canada for the bronze. “It’s unbelievable that the top teams could behave in such a manner. It’s very disappointing that their federations tried to defend them.”
Li also called the fiasco unfortunate and said it had damaged badminton.
“It wasn’t really good for the sport and it’s definitely not the way we want to put [badminton] on the map in Canada.”
But for now Li and Bruce are concentrating on the Russians and a possible medal. They lost to the Russians badly in the first round but feel that somehow they are not the same team.
“I think our game has really changed, our team has changed from the pool play,” said Bruce. “Anything can happen now.”
When Bruce heard that the Russians also expect a better game from the Canadians, she replied: “They should.”