TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan had looked a genuine threat to China’s dominance coming into the Tokyo Olympics but despite having home-court advantage and nearly twice as many top-five players in their ranks the host nation ended the competition with a solitary bronze medal.
Traditional powerhouse China won just three medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics but their shuttlers have returned with a vengeance, winning one gold so far and still in the running for the other four.
Things looked good for Japan with a 15-match streak of wins until Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda lost to China’s Li Jun Hui and Liu Yu Chen on Thursday.
It was all downhill from there.
“We had a lot of high-ranking Japanese players so everybody expected us to win some medals,” women’s number five Akane Yamaguchi said after losing to India’s PV Sindhu on Friday.
Defeat was harder to swallow with the Games taking place in Tokyo, she added.
For some, the pressure of playing at home was too much, with women’s third seed Nozomi Okuhara saying ” .. I couldn’t control my feelings at the beginning of the game”.
The most surprising in a series of upsets was men’s favourite Kento Momota’s defeat to South Korea’s Heo Kwang-hee.
With the world number one gone, his team mates quickly followed — Yuki Fukushima, Takeshi Kamura, Keigo Sonoda, Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe all heading for the exit.
“We are really disappointed we couldn’t win and deliver the victory for the Japanese people,” Wakana Nagahara said after she and her partner lost to South Korea’s Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong.
“We wanted to give back something for the support we have received.”
Not everyone felt the heat of being at home.
When asked if they felt pressure in their men’s doubles match on Monday, Kamura and Sonoda said they did not — in fact, being in the same timezone meant they could talk to friends and family unlike visiting Olympians.
While one medal is much less than Japan expected, the mixed doubles bronze was still a source of tremendous pride.
“Getting a bronze medal for Japan is very meaningful,” Yuta Watanabe said, after he and team mate Arisa Higashino were defeated by China’s Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping.
“I wanted to receive a better colour but it’s enough.”
(Reporting by Richa Naidu;Editing by Peter Rutherford)