Badminton superstar Lin Dan is in quest for a record second Olympic title at the London Olympic Games starting from July 28 to August 5 when star-studded China will be looking forward to stamping its authority.
Different from previous Olympic badminton competitions, the London Games will witness the debut of a new format, to be played on two stages – group play and knock-out stages.
China is still hot favorite in all the five events after claiming three gold, two silver, and three bronze medals in 2008. But rivals will be queuing up to give China a bloody nose on the biggest stage of all at the Wembley Arena.
Although China made a clean-sweep in recent two world championships and swept both Sudirman Cup and Thomas & Uber Cup, Chinese long-time head coach Li Yongbo has attempted to lower expectations for the London Games.
"Four years ago we were on home soil, but in London we will be away and encounter more challenges," he warned.
Li believed China can at least bag two golds in London and the order from easy to difficult is the women’s doubles, women’s singles, men’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles.
No shuttler has defended the men’s singles title in the history of the Olympic Games ever, and Lin Dan has a chance to break the jinx after he beat Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei in a one-sided final four years ago.
Lin said he wanted "everything to be like in 2008 before Beijing" after he led China to win its fifth successive Thomas Cup title in May.
However he kept a low profile, saying "it’s difficult to repeat the peak of the Beijing Games".
"I should take nothing for granted and I am going to use every day as an opportunity to prepare and improve," he said.
Widely considered the most decorated shuttler of all time, Lin has won every major title available to an Asian.
Standing in the 29-year-old’s quest for a second Olympic title will again be his main rival Lee. Though the Malaysian tore a tendon in his ankle during the Thomas Cup match last month and lost the world No. 1 place to Lin for the first time in nearly four years, he is still the biggest barrier for Lin.
Lee was the on-form shuttler and favorite for almost every super series in the past 12 months, and his rehabilitation went smoothly and it seems he will recover from the injury in time.
However, one criticism of Lee’s career is the lack of titles from world major competitions, like the world championships, Asian Games and the Olympic Games.
Besides, Lee will feel more pressure by bearing Malaysia’s hope of a first Olympic gold at London.
"Maintaining my fitness under these conditions is tough but there’s no shortcut and the thought that I won’t be able to fight for the (Olympic) gold medal drives me on," said Lee.
Other than Lin, Lee will also meet hard resistance from two Chinese shuttlers, Chen Long and Chen Jin, who ranked third and fourth in the world. Although neither of the duo has achieved the same kind of long-running dominance like Lin, they can still be challengers.
China’s supremacy can also be shown in women’s singles and women’s doubles. Chine has dominated the two events by claiming all the golds since 2000 and 1996 respectively.
Women’s singles is the only Olympic badminton event in which China has four players qualified, however, according to Badminton World Federation (BWF) rules, a team can have up to three Olympic singles qualification berths if at least three players qualify in the world top four.
China at last dropped Asian Games winner Wang Shixian and picked Li Xuerui to enter the London Games along with world top two Wang Yihan and Wang Xin.
Wang Yihan, the reigning world champion, staged a stable performance this year by leading China to regain the Uber Cup. However, Wang Xin has not won a title since the 2011 Hong Kong Open win, and has reached only one final this year.
Li Xuerui hits her form since this February by achieving a four-tournament winning streak, but she lacks experience as the 21 year-old has never been in big events like Olympics and world championships before.
Chinese three shuttlers will face numerous opponents, the number of which has doubled compared with the Beijing Games, namely India’s world No.5 Saina Nehwal, Germany’s Juliane Schenk, Danish veteran Tine Baun, South Korean Sung Ji Hyun and Thailand’s teenager Ratchanok Intanon.
Women’s doubles world No.1 Yu Yang/Wang Xiaoli of China made 12 consecutive finals appearances with seven BWF Superseries titles to their name in 2011. The pair are considered as the hot favorites, while teammates Tian Qing/Zhao Yunlei, world No. 2, are also contenders for the gold.
Men’s doubles and mixed doubles are wide open as the competitors’ level is very close.
South Korean Chung Jae Sung/Lee Yong Dae surpass China’s world champions Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng to top men’s doubles world ranking recently.
The new world No.1 hope to make up for their Beijing regret after they were stunned in the first round at the Beijing Games.
"In the past four years, I always think about the reason why I lost in the first round. Four years later I will vie for the gold, " said Lee, gold medalist in mixed doubles at the 2008 Games.
Cai/Fu are more eager for the Olympic gold because the pair lost the Beijing final to Indonesia’s Markis Kido/Hendra Setiawan, who are not qualified for the London Games.
The Chinese popular pair are four-time world champions and two-time All-England winners. The London Games will be their third Olympic journey. In 2004, they were stopped in the top eight clash.
"Cai and Fu keep good form heading towards the London Games, and they are more mature in terms of techniques, mindset and experience. I hope they can win the gold," said Li Yongbo.
Other challengers in men’s doubles include 2011 world superseries finals winners Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen of Denmark, South Korea’s world No.4 Ko Sung Hyun/Yoo Yeon Seong.
In mixed doubles, Chinese pair Zhan Nan/Zhao Yunlei and Xu Chen/Ma Jin ranked 1-2 in the world. But they are also not dominant in the event as they were beaten by Denmark’s Joachim Fischer Nielsen/Christinna Pederson and Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir in the past 12 months.