If there’s one sport that’s ready for an Olympic breakthrough in Rio, it just might be badminton.
Badminton is one of the top 10 most-played sports by Canadians aged 15 and older, with over 300,000 regular participants, according to the most recent figures. That’s more than tennis, Canadian football and yes, even curling.
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But among those 10 most-played sports, badminton is one of only two (the other being baseball, which isn’t on the Rio 2016 program) in which Canada has never won an Olympic medal.
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The Canadian pair of Olympic debutantes lost all three group-stage games, but nonetheless found themselves in the quarterfinals after two other teams from their group were disqualified.
A hard-fought, three-set win over their Australian opponents put Li and Bruce in the semifinals, where they fell in three sets to a Japanese duo. Though they also came up short in the bronze-medal game, the fourth-place finish did provide a surge of momentum to Canadian badminton.
Now, Li is riding some personal momentum into the Rio Games.
She won’t be the only one representing the red maple leaf on the badminton court. Martin Giuffre, a 25-year-old from Calgary, has been fighting hard to demonstrate his passion for the sport on a global stage for years, and did enough during the qualification process to earn his own spot in Rio.
Despite being played and enjoyed by so many in Canada, badminton has often struggled to garner the resources and widespread attention that some other sports can command. A podium finish on the Olympic stage could provide that crucial missing link.
Both Li and Giuffre will be up against deep, experienced fields of competitors this summer, with plenty of difficult obstacles between themselves and the podium. But with the perseverance they’ve both already shown, 2016 could turn out to be the year of badminton’s long-awaited Canadian breakthrough.