Canadians into badminton medal round after scandal engulfs sport
Eight athletes disqualified for trying to lose on purpose
A scandal that swept the badminton world at the London Olympics on Wednesday turned out to be magic for a pair of young Canadians.
Michele Li, of Markham, and Alex Bruce, of Toronto, defeated Leanne Choo and Renuga Veeran of Australia in three games at Wembley Arena, 21-9, 18-21, 21-18 to advance to the semifinals against Japan on Thursday.
A win there would put the Canadians in the gold medal match while a loss means playing for the bronze medal. No Canadians had ever advanced to the medal round in Olympic history.
Bruce and Li fell behind in the final game 5-2 before battling back to tie at five, seven and eight and then go up 10-8 at the mid-game interval.
Moving up 13-9, they let Choo and Veeran back in the game tied at 13-13, then 15 and 16.
It was then the Canadians put the hammer down, led by a line hugging long return from Bruce that was in by a whisker, and taking advantage of a long serve by the opponents for the win.
Both teams were in the quarter-finals because of what happened earlier in the day when the badminton federation disqualified four of the top pairings for trying to lose on purpose.
The eight players from China, South Korea and Indonesia were cited by the Badminton World Federation, for "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport," said the Associated Press.
Li and Bruce, just 21 and 22 respectively, were the 2011 Pan Am Games doubles champs, while Li also added the singles title. At the Olympics, however, the Canadians were up against the best in the world and had originally failed to advance from the round robin.
Their re-entry into the tournament was quite the turn of events.
"Our coach called us, saying to stand by, to stay in the hotel," Bruce said. "So then we just tried to stay calm and stay in our hotel until we got a phone call to get ready to come down and play.
"It was really unfortunate for the sport, but it’s impossible to say if it was the right or wrong thing to do. Right or wrong, we are here now. We just tried to take advantage of an opportunity."
Appeal denied by federation
South Korea and Indonesia appealed the disqualification, but the BWF rejected the South Korean appeal and the Indonesia challenge was withdrawn. China had accepted the federation's earlier decision.
The competition was to continued later Wednesday with four previously eliminated teams in the quarterfinals. Russian pair Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova, and Canadian team Alex Bruce and Michele Li advanced from Group A. Australian pair Leanne Choo and Renuga Veeran and South African duo Michelle Edwards and Annari Viljoen went through from Group C.
"We applaud the federation for having taken swift and decisive action," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press. "Such behavior is incompatible with the Olympic values."
Before the decision was announced, Indonesia Olympic team leader Erick Thohir accused Chinese players of losing on purpose in the past.
"China has been doing this so many times and they never get sanctioned by the BWF," Thohir said. "On the first game yesterday when China did it, the BWF didn't do anything. If the BWF do something on the first game and they say you are disqualified, it is a warning for everyone."
IOC Vice President Craig Reedie, the former head of the international badminton federation, welcomed the decision to kick the four teams out.
Sport is competitive," Reedie told the AP. "If you lose the competitive element, then the whole thing becomes a nonsense.
You cannot allow a player to abuse the tournament like that, and not take firm action. So good on them."
The eight disqualified players are world doubles champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang of China and their South Korean opponents Jung Kyun-eun and Kim Ha-na, along with South Korea's Ha Jung-eun and Kim Min-jung and Indonesia's Meiliana Jauhari and Greysia Polii.
The players went before a disciplinary hearing Wednesday, a day after spectators at the arena booed their performance after it became clear they were deliberately trying to lose.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge had been at the venue but had left shortly before the drama unfolded. The IOC said it would allow badminton's ruling body to handle the matter.
Teams blamed the introduction of a round-robin stage rather than a straight knockout tournament as the main cause of the problem. The round-robin format can allow results to be manipulated to earn an easier matchup in the knockout round.
The Chinese players tried to rig the draw after its second-seeded pair unexpectedly lost to a Danish team in the morning. That placed the No. 2 pair on course for a semifinal meeting with Wang and Yu, instead of the final.
Wang and Yu then deliberately set out to lose so they would go into the bottom half of the draw. They hardly exerted themselves, and neither did the South Koreans, drawing jeers of derision from the crowd and warnings from the umpire and tournament referee Torsten Berg. Wang and Yu eventually got what they wanted by losing.
An hour later, the South Korean team of Ha and Kim took to the court and decided to also try to lose to the Indonesians to avoid meeting Wang and Yu in the quarterfinals.
Early on, all four players were warned by the umpire for not trying hard, and Berg returned and produced black cards to disqualify both pairs, but the cards were rescinded on a promise of better play.
In the third game, Berg reappeared to urge them to finish, and the Indonesians ended up being better at losing than Ha and Kim, who fell into the playoff they didn't want with the world champions.
With files from Doug Harrison, CBC Sports & Associated Press