For decades, Denmark has remained the most successful European nation in badminton and will thus be one of the biggest challengers to the Asian powerhouses at the Tokyo Olympics.
They are the latest stars from a country that has churned out champions for years through its effective club system.
The reason behind Denmark's success in badminton
Since the 1950s, Denmark has invested in constructing indoor sports facilities in nearly every municipality across the country, which is a major reason behind the success of Danish badminton. Currently over 600 clubs are represented by Badminton Denmark, which supervises day-to-day affairs through an assembly where each member club is represented.
Over the years, this system has been instrumental in producing legends and pushing Danish badminton to the heights of excellence.
Former World No. 1s Morten Frost and Lene Koppen inspired an entire generation to embrace the sport back in 1970s-80s. Peter Gade followed in their footsteps, mesmerizing one and all with his on-court wizardry.
History of Danish badminton in Olympics
With badminton consolidating its place at the mega quadrennial event in 1992, many of Denmark's legends didn't have the fortune to taste glory at the Olympics.
Even then, the Scandinavian country ranks fourth among all nations with its meager haul of 8 medals from the Olympics.
Denmark's first Olympic medal came in the very first edition in which badminton was included. Thomas Stuer-Lauridsen, a bronze medalist in men's singles at the Barcelona Games, etched his name in the record books as the country's first-ever Olympic medalist in badminton.
The current president of the Badminton World Federation (BWF), Poul-Erik Høyer Larsen then made history in 1996 as the first Danish shuttler to win Olympic gold. Till date, he remains the only badminton player from Denmark to have collected the yellow metal.
It was mainly in the last couple of editions of the Olympics that Denmark had a flurry of medals from the big-ticket event.
Viktor Axelsen added the Rio men's singles bronze to his glittering collection of medals. Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen capped their long men's doubles careers with a silver medal from the London Olympics.
Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl's heroics were rewarded with a women's doubles silver at Rio, four years after Pedersen won the mixed doubles bronze with Joachim Fischer Nielsen.
While many of these stars have retired, Denmark remains very much a force to reckon with on the BWF circuit.
Here's a look at the Danish shuttlers who can make the nation proud at the Tokyo Olympics:
Men's singles contenders at the Tokyo Olympics:
#1 Viktor Axelsen
Viktor Axelsen has been the torch-bearer for Danish men's singles badminton for the past few years. His towering 6'4'' frame helps in producing power-packed smashes, making him a treat to watch every time he steps on the court.
Axelsen burst onto the scene when he became the first-ever European to be crowned the junior men's singles world champion in 2010. Since then, the Dane has made rapid strides on the tour, adding some of the biggest titles to his illustrious resume, in addition to ascending to the pinnacle of the world rankings.
The 27-year-old has tasted glory at the World Championships as well as the All England Open - two of badminton's most prestigious tournaments. He was also part of Denmark's historic Thomas Cup-winning squad in 2016. That same year, Axelsen also won a prized Olympic bronze medal at the Rio Games.
Axelsen has started the 2021 season in stellar form and is looking every bit the contender for the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. He has reached the finals of all five tournaments he has played, winning in 3.
With the poise and hunger he has shown already, it won't be a surprise to see Axelsen finally take the Olympic gold that he missed at Rio five years ago.
#2 Anders Antonsen
Former European junior champion Anders Antonsen has blossomed into one of the top men's singles shuttlers today. Endowed with an aggressive game and speed, Antonsen came into the spotlight after winning a silver medal at the 2017 European Championships.
But it was in 2019 that the 23-year-old came into his own. Having won the Indonesia Masters and the European Games titles, he made it to the World Championships final, where he had to settle for silver.
Antonsen returned in 2020 to finish as the runner-up at the Indonesia Masters before going on to win the Denmark Open and the BWF World Tour Finals titles.
His recent exploits have catapulted the 2021 England Open semi-finalist to No. 3 on the Race to Tokyo rankings.
Antonsen is currently the No. 1 Dane in men's singles, ahead of Viktor Axelsen. He will surely look to carry the momentum into the Tokyo Olympics and bag a medal.
Women's singles contender at the Tokyo Olympics:
Much like Anders Antonsen, 23-year-old Mia Blichfeldt too first came into the limelight with the girls' singles title at the European Junior Championships in 2015.
Her rise has, however, been slow since. It was finally in 2019 that she started asserting herself on the tour by winning the Spain Masters and the European Games.
Mia Blichfeldt has been a force to reckon with this year as she aims to make Denmark proud at the Olympics. She made the semi-finals at the Yonex Thailand Open and the Swiss Open before reaching the quarter-finals at the All England Open.
By dint of her superb early-season performances, the World No. 18 is currently in 14th position in the Race to Tokyo rankings. A top-16 place would guarantee her a direct entry into the Tokyo Olympics and an easier draw. Blichfeldt looks comfortably placed at the moment to fulfill her dream of representing her nation at the Olympic Games.