Tuesday, July 30, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BWF ARCHIVES & BADMINTON PHOTO
For an event that started in the shadow of the venerable All England, the inaugural World Championships of 1977 enjoyed a fairly auspicious start.
The Malmo Ice Hockey Stadium hosted 135 participants from 26 countries – quite an impressive number for the time – and although the numbers have rocketed since then, the momentum that was set by the first World Championships did provide the thrust for the event to reach continuously greater heights.
When the arena lights in St. Jakobshalle get switched on on the opening day of the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 – the 25th edition of the tournament – there will be 359 players from 46 countries waiting to script their stories at the world’s premier individual championships. Today, the event – supported by TOTAL, HSBC, YONEX, GoDaddy, ALPS, hosts Swiss Badminton and the city of Basel – has achieved the kind of global following that few in 1977 would have dreamt possible.
In its 42-year journey, the World Championships has been a distinct marker of the evolution of badminton.
The first World Championships, for instance, saw Lene Koppen win gold in singles and doubles. At the next edition, Verawaty Wiharjo was close to emulating her, returning with a gold in singles and a silver in doubles. Players like Thomas Kihlstrom and Gillian Gilks – medallists at different editions – were adept in singles and doubles.
Over the years, however, the increasing specialisation of singles and doubles has meant that these are now nearly two exclusive worlds, and the World Championships of the past three decades have demonstrated that Koppen’s achievement will possibly never be matched.
Not that there is a dearth of other titanic feats. Park Joo Bong was the first to win five gold medals; Lin Dan followed in his footsteps. Players like Gao Ling, Zhao Yunlei, Zhang Nan, Cai Yun/Fu Haifeng and Liliyana Natsir have all left their indelible mark on the game winning multiple titles; Carolina Marin – the first to win three women’s singles gold medals – has already achieved much and promises more.
China entered the World Championships after the first two editions and has demonstrated the ability to come good at each edition. Indeed, China’s least profitable World Championships came back in the early 1990s – when they won a solitary gold medal in 1993 and 1995 when Indonesia was at their peak. Since then, the resurgent Chinese have won at least two gold at every edition; on three occasions – 1987, 2010 and 2011 – they have swept the board.
Much of their China’s dominance was thanks to women’s singles and women’s doubles. They won 15 out of 17 women’s singles titles between 1983 and 2011, while in women’s doubles, they won 20 out of 21 gold medals from 1983 to 2017.
Recent years have shown that no single country is dominant in any category. Women’s singles has seen an explosion of talent from various countries; China’s last victory was in 2011. Japan’s strength in women’s doubles saw them halt China’s march last year. In men’s singles too, there is exciting talent from countries like Japan, Denmark, Indonesia and India.
Given the form of the top players this season, there is an element of unpredictability about what is set to unfold. The presence of the 1977 medallists in Basel will make this an even more special event. The run-up to the historic 25th edition of the World Championships couldn’t be more exciting.