Tokyo Olympics: Japan set to dominate all three badminton doubles events

Japan's men's doubles coach Tan Kim Her
Japan's men's doubles coach Tan Kim Her

As the host country of the Tokyo Olympics, Japan would be looking to make a mark in multiple sports and disciplines. This would include badminton, which has been growing in prominence in the East Asian country in the last few years.

Japan has been one of the most consistent performers on the world badminton stage in the last decade. They are almost at par with world leaders China, if not better than them.

Japan won their maiden Thomas Cup in 2014 and have produced world champions in both the men’s and women’s singles.

Nozomi Okuhara, a player diminutive in build but not in stature, achieved the feat in 2017 with the women's singles crown. Left-handed shuttler Kento Momota emulated Okuhara's brilliance by winning the men’s singles title back-to-back in 2018 and 2019.

However, despite ruling at the world level, Japan so far managed to win only three medals in the Olympics with a solitary medal in the doubles section.

In 2012 at the London Olympics, women’s doubles pair Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa broke the medal deadlock by winning the silver medal in the women’s doubles. Four years later at the Rio Olympics, Nozomi Okuhara claimed bronze in the women’s singles after losing to PV Sindhu in the semi-finals.

Women’s doubles pair of Misako Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi created history as the first Japanese to win gold in badminton at the 2016 Olympics.

Although Japan has managed a little bit of success in the women’s singles and women’s doubles, no Japanese has ever won a medal yet in both the men’s and mixed doubles competitions.

Japan has competed in the sport since badminton was introduced at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992.

However, the Tokyo Olympics can change the fortunes of the Japanese, as experts believe that the hosts are likely to sweep medals in the doubles categories.

Five pairs from Japan have qualified for three doubles events at the Tokyo Olympics

Japan is the only country to have five pairs competing in three doubles disciplines in badminton at the Tokyo Olympics. No other country has such a formidable squad in the doubles. They have two pairs each in the men’s doubles and women’s doubles and one in the mixed doubles.

In the men’s doubles, Japan has two combinations in the top-5 of the BWF world rankings. Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe are world No. 4, while Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda are placed just a spot below them.

Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota are the numero uno pair in the women’s doubles and they are followed closely by Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara.

In the mixed doubles category, the Japanese pairing of Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino are ranked fifth in the world. The experienced pair are considered potential podium-finishers in front of their home supporters at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Men’s doubles coach of Japan, Tan Kim Her, is very busy these days as he prepares his two pairs for the ultimate showdown. He is optimistic about his team’s chances at the Tokyo Olympics, but ready for the big challenge from the other nations.

The 49-year-old Tan Kim Her said:

“I believe every country is well prepared for the big battle. Only the best qualify for the Olympics and we cannot afford to take anyone lightly. It will be a tough fight from the first round itself. Several pairs are capable of winning the gold medal. At the end of the day, the way the players handle the pressure-cooker situation will matter the most.”
Tan Kim Her (left) with Indian players PV Sindhu, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa (right)
Tan Kim Her (left) with Indian players PV Sindhu, Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa (right)

Former Malaysian national team player Tan Kim Her was India's first specialist doubles coach from 2015 to 2019. He had developed India’s doubles pair of Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy – who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics – in their early years.

The Malaysian, who took charge of the Japan’s men’s doubles team as coach two years ago, was confident about both the top pairs at the Tokyo Olympics. Yuta Watanabe and Hiroyuki Endo created history as they retained the men’s doubles title at the All England Championship in March 2021.

In an all-Japan summit clash, Watanabe and Endo thumped their countrymen Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda. Endo and Watanabe became the first Japanese men’s doubles champions in the world’s oldest tournament’s 110-year history.

Tan Kim Her added:

“Personally it was an ultimate moment for me as a coach as both our pairs fought in the All England Championships final a few months ago. It is my dream to see them fighting for a gold medal match on August 2 in Tokyo. I know it is not easy to repeat the All England performance. Some of the Chinese, Indonesian, Chinese Taipei and Denmark pairs will be hard nuts to crack.”

Japan are likely to dominate the women’s doubles section at the Tokyo Olympics as well, as both the top pairs are heading the rankings. Former Japanese player Kei Nakashima is the women’s doubles coach.

Jeremy Gan of Malaysia is the mixed doubles coach of Japan. Gan guided his trainees Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino to Japan’s first-ever mixed doubles title at the All England Championships in 2018.

Kim Tan Her explained the reason behind Japan’s biggest squad at the Tokyo Olympics. He gave credit for their doubles' success to the Japan Badminton Association (JBA).

“The JBA officials have been working hard for the development of badminton for the last seven-eight years with their systematic planning. They have appointed senior professional coaches for overall improvement. For all the five disciplines they have a separate coach unlike the other countries. The Japanese coaching set-up is led by Park Joo-bong of South Korea. The professional approach has given them desired results.”

With five pairs in the doubles and supported by home advantage, it won’t be a surprise for anyone if they dominate the badminton competition at the Tokyo Olympics from July 24 to August 2021.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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