Denmark's Viktor Axelsen ends Asia's 25-year dominance
Danish shuttler is first non-Asian to win Games men's singles title since 1996
Denmark's Viktor Axelsen became the first non-Asian man to win the Olympic badminton singles title since 1996, following a convincing win over defending champion Chen Long of China yesterday.
Axelsen and Chen, two of the world's most brutal smashers, ended their match 21-15, 21-12 after nearly an hour of flash shots and mesmerising rallies.
The rivals embraced after the match and conversed in Mandarin, with the Dane still sobbing when he left the court.
"He told me that I deserved it, and my performance here has been great," said world No. 2 Axelsen.
"And I said, 'Thank you so much' and that he has been a big inspiration to me."
Axelsen, 27, followed in the footsteps of compatriot Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen, the Atlanta Games champion and the last winner from outside Asia.
He was preceded by Alan Budikusuma (Indonesia, 1992) and succeeded by Ji Xinpeng (China, 2000), Taufik Hidayat (Indonesia, 2004), Lin Dan (China, 2008 and 2012) and Chen (2016).
Hoyer-Larsen, now president of the Badminton World Federation, was in the arena to watch Axelsen match his achievement.
Chen, 32, was bidding to emulate his compatriot Lin Dan in retaining his Olympic title.
But Axelsen held his nerve with the prize in sight, then broke into disbelieving sobs when the world No. 6 hit the final shot long.
"When you win an Olympic final in straight games like this against Chen Long, I think you can say that you've been at least really, really close to your best," added Axelsen, who also won last year's All England Open.
Indonesia's Anthony Sinisuka Ginting took the bronze, beating Guatemala's world No. 59 Kevin Cordon 21-11, 21-13.
Ginting's win gave Indonesia two medals on the final day of badminton, after Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu claimed gold in the women's doubles.
It was Indonesia's first Olympic title in the category, which has been dominated by China, and the country's first gold medal of the Tokyo Games.
The duo overcame China's Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan 21-19, 21-15 at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza for a well-deserved victory.
At one stage, Polii hit the shuttlecock so hard that a string on her racket broke and she had to dash off to swop it for another one while the point was still in play.
"People said, 'You're not going to make it because Indonesia doesn't have a history in women's doubles," said a sobbing Polii, 33, whose Olympic dream began two decades ago.
"Here I am now."
Polii and Rahayu clutched each other after the win, crying while singing the national anthem underneath their masks as the Indonesian flag was hoisted.
In a moment of touching camaraderie, they invited the silver and bronze medallists to squeeze onto the podium for a picture.
Earlier, two South Korean duos met in a battle for the women's doubles bronze, with world No. 5 pair Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong taking the honours. - AFP, REUTERS