Olympic badminton preview
Badminton belongs to Asia. Its countries won all 15 available medals in Beijing; China led the way with eight, including three golds. Asia has claimed 90.8 percent of all badminton medals (69 of 76) since the sport debuted at the Barcelona Games in 1992, and that trend is likely to continue in London. A Chinese sweep of golds at Wembley Arena is well within the realm of possibility, as the country boasts the No. 1-ranked players in four of five events -- men's singles, women's singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.
(China's best men's doubles team is ranked No. 2.)
The U.S. has yet to medal in badminton; in Beijing, the doubles team of Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong became the first Americans to even reach a quarterfinal. (The Bach-Malaythong combo remains more famous for appearing in a VitaminWater
Gunawan has also helped coach the lone American female representative, 20-year-old Rena Wang, who put an undergraduate degree at UCLA on hold to focus on qualifying for the Games. She has played in at least 25 tournaments since May 2011, reaching a world No. 63 ranking, which was good enough to make her the top American but makes a podium appearance highly unlikely.
Can Europe break the Asian stranglehold on medals? The two most realistic hopes for medalists from outside Asia are both from the Euro-badminton hotbed of Denmark: men's singles shuttler Peter Hoeg Gade (the world No. 5) and the men's doubles team of Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen (the world No. 3). Gade's chances improve significantly if Chong Wei isn't fit to contend.
India has few prominent female athletes, but 22-year-old Sania Nehwal is an emerging singles star whose popularity would explode if she reaches the podium. She made a run to the quarterfinals in Beijing when she was 18, and is ranked fifth in the world behind four Chinese women: Wang Yihan, Wang Xin, Li Xuerui and Wang Shixian.
In May 2011, the Badminton World Federation attempted to implement a rule that forced women playing in elite competition to wear skirts or dresses, in hopes of sexing up a sport with a limited fanbase. There was so much backlash to the rule, which was widely criticized as sexist and offensive, that it was scrapped before it took effect. Women competing in London can still wear skirts by choice, but many will opt for shorts or pants instead.