Badminton has been part of the Olympics since the Barcelona games in 1992, although it was a demonstration sport at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
The current event offers the opportunity gold medal success across 5 events - men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles. The competition is played as a straight elimination format - best of 3 games, up to 21 points, with a player needing to win by 2 clear points or reach 30 points. Historically, China have been the most successful country at the Olympics, followed by South Korea and Indonesia.
We caught up with ex-professional (now coach) Tom Wilkinson on his thoughts regarding badminton at the Olympics, the impact on participation and Team GBs chances of winning a medal in Tokyo.
Does the Olympics give the game of badminton more exposure than it is used to?
I think the Olympic games definitely gives badminton a bit more exposure than it is used to. Each year badminton is getting more and more exposure, with most tournaments now being shown live online. But only fans of badminton would tune in to watch all of these tournaments.
The Olympics help to give more exposure to a different audience. A lot of people who love sport will watch the Olympics, but not just the sports that they like. I know from my own experience I will watch whatever sport is on and really get into it. This happens with badminton too, lots of people will tune in and be surprised at how hard, fast and exciting it is! This may then result in more people playing badminton and following/watching the tournaments that are online.
Is there ever a positive "knock on" effect in terms of participation after an Olympic games?
I’m sure there is always a positive effect in terms of participation levels after every Olympic games. As it’s shown on BBC, a lot more people have access to watching badminton. Some may be watching for the first time and want to give it a go. For others, they might have played badminton years ago and want to get back into from seeing it on the TV. It would be very interesting to see the figures of participation following the Olympics. From my own experiences, people I know have gone for a game of badminton after watching it at the Olympics.
How do players see the Olympic games? Is it as important as the World Championships?
This is a great question and a very interesting debate for badminton players. The world championships is held almost annually (with the only break when the Olympics is on) and has more strength in depth. This is due to it being a bigger draw & each country being able to get more places in the draw.
However, the Olympics is only held every 4 years and still boasts the world’s very best players. It just has a much smaller draw and it’s really hard for countries to get more than one representative in each discipline. This means it doesn’t quite have the same strength in depth as the World Championships. To win you would still have to beat the best in the world, but you won’t come across as many lower ranked pairs who could potentially cause an upset.
I’m not going to sit on the fence with this one. In my opinion I would rather Win the Olympic games. This is because of the fact that it’s only every 4 years, so in a players career they don’t have many chances to become Olympic Champion. Most players at the top level will only go to one or two Olympics. I also think the Olympics is a bit more prestigious.
Which country is generally the favourite to take home the medals in the Olympic games?
In previous games China has dominated the badminton across all events. But this year in Tokyo it is a bit more open, with China only being definite favourites in the mixed doubles.
Can any other country seriously challenge the Chinese at these Olympics?
I think Japan are the favourites to get the most medals in Tokyo. Not just because it’s a home games for the players. They have been very impressive across all disciplines over the last couple of years. I do think they will be the country to bring home the most medals.
What will be the difference in Tokyo compared to previous competitions?
The biggest difference in Tokyo is the effects of Covid. With no opening ceremony and very little (or no) crowd it will have a completely different feel and atmosphere to previous games. It will also be different as some of the athletes competing haven’t played tournaments/competitions in the last 12-18 months! This could result in a few upsets. It will be interesting to see how it all goes.
Who is Team GBs best hope for a medal?
Marcus Ellis & Lauren Smith are GB’s best hope for a medal. They have been in great form over the last few years and are ranked in the world’s top 10. Marcus has also medalled at the Olympics in Rio. He knows what it takes and has experience in the highest of pressure situations. This will surely help going into Tokyo. They have a tough group, but I see them coming through it. Then anything can happen it the knockout stages. Let’s hope they can play their highest level and bring home a medal!
Will there be any players to watch out for this year?
In the men’s singles it will be great to see if Kento Momota (Japan) can be back to his best, especially as it’s on home turf. Also watch out for Yuta Watanbe (Japan) who has a chance of winning medals in both the mixed and men’s doubles. Of course keep your eye out for the whole of Team GB and cheer them on!