|Badminton player Heo Kwang-hee celebrates his victory over Japan's Kento Momota in their men's singles badminton group stage match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Musashino Forest Sports Plaza in Tokyo, Wednesday. AFP-Yonhap|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
Previously overlooked in this year's games, Korea's badminton players have jumped into the spotlight, as they are showing strong performances at the Tokyo Olympics.
Once a powerhouse at badminton, Korea seemed to have lost the crown to Japan after high-profile badminton players, including the world No. 1 pair in the men's doubles, Lee Yong-dae and Yoo Yeon-seong, retired after the 2016 Rio Olympics.
However, a new generation of stars is emerging.
Heo Kwang-hee, ranked No. 38 in the world, beat No. 1 Kento Momota of Japan, 2-0, in the men's singles Wednesday, stepping closer to gold in his Olympic debut. Having won two consecutive matches, against Timothy Lam of the U.S. and Momota in the group stage, he advanced straight to the quarterfinals, scheduled for Saturday.
"I played the game feeling like a challenger. I told myself, 'What have I got to lose?'" Heo said after beating Momota.
Because Heo's victory was unexpected, his match was not broadcast live. Instead, all of the local broadcasters were airing the men's group A first round football match between Japan and France.
Heo's fans expressed their frustration on social media, arguing, "Local broadcasters didn't air Heo's match because without any doubt he would lose the game. They opted to show replays of medal contenders or big-name athletes over and over again while neglecting less popular players. That's discriminatory."
|Badminton players Kim So-yeong, right, and Kong Hee-yong celebrate their victory over Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara of Japan in the quarterfinals of the women's doubles badminton event at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo, Thursday. Yonhap|
Korea has now secured at least a bronze medal in the women's doubles badminton event after two pairs advanced to the semifinals on opposite sides of the tournament bracket.
The two Korean teams could meet each other in the gold or bronze medal matches.
The women's doubles pair of Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong claimed a hard-fought 2-1 win over Japan's Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara in the quarterfinal. Kim and Kong will face Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan of China in the semifinals on Saturday.
The other doubles pair of Lee So-hee and Shin Seung-chan cruised past the Netherlands' Selena Piek and Cheryl Seinen, 2-0 in the quarterfinals. Lee and Shin will compete against Indonesia's Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu in the semifinals Saturday.
If one of these two teams wins the gold medal in the women's doubles, it will be the first since Chung So-young and Hwang Hey-young won the inaugural championship in 1992. Jung Kyung-eun and Shin Seung-chan won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
|Badminton player An Se-young plays against China's Chen Yu Fei during their women's singles badminton quarterfinal match at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in Tokyo, Friday. AP-Yonhap|
Rising badminton star An Se-young, ranked No. 8, lost to world No. 2, China's Chen Yu Fei by a score of 0-2 in her quarterfinal match Friday. However, the 19-year-old An, named the Most Promising Player of the Year by the Badminton World Federation in 2019, demonstrated her medal-winning potential during the Tokyo Olympics.
Meanwhile, Choi Sol-kyu and Seo Seung-jae failed qualify for the quarterfinals in the men's doubles badminton event at their first Olympics.