China won the opening badminton title of the London Games as Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei became the first boyfriend and girlfriend duo to win Olympic gold medals together. Zhang and Zhao, who also won the world mixed doubles title in the same Wembley Arena venue a year ago, took the Olympic gold medal with a 21-11, 21-17 win over their second-seeded compatriots Xu Chen and Ma Jin.
Their success raised the possibility of the world’s most powerful badminton nation, winning all five Olympic titles at a single Games for the first time.
China are already certain of the women’s singles title, and have surviving players in all the other three events.
At the end of the match, Zhang threw his golden-colored shoes into the crowd in celebration.
In the past, Chinese athletes have sometimes been discouraged from dating teammates, but badminton head coach Li Yongbo has adopted a more liberal attitude, both to Zhang and Zhao and in the past to other players.
Most notably, he allowed a relationship between Olympic men’s singles champion Lin Dan, and the former women’s singles world champion Xie Xinfang, who are now married. This is perhaps unsurprising, because Li apparently met his wife, the rhythmic gymnast Xie Ying, at a training venue in 1983. Zhang and Zhao’s relationship apparently came to light when they hugged and kissed after winning the Japan Super Series title two years ago.
Indonesia’s Susi Susanti and Allan Busi Kusuma, now a married couple, also won Olympic gold medals on finals day in Barcelona in 1992, but did so in their respective singles events.
Even though there were some sensational rallies of attack, defense and counter-attack, which often made a fine spectacle, there was never much doubt about the outcome of Friday’s showpiece match until just before the end.
Then, after establishing an eight-point second game lead, the eventual champions relaxed, allowing a nervous-looking Xu Chen to launch some significant blows and claw the deficit back to two points at 17-19. However, the gold medalists finished off the match when Zhao once again established a good net position, enabling Zhang to batter some heavy blows from the back and penetrate their opponents’ defense.
“We have been training very hard and I think this gold medal will just be a beginning for our career,” Zhao said.