Badminton Life

Zhang Defies Age to Successfully Defend Olympic Title

China's Zhang Ning overcame all the odds to beat favourite Xie Xingfang 21-12, 10-21, 21-18 to win her second straight Olympic badminton women's singles gold medal in Beijing.

Although the world number seven won the title four years ago in Athens, few gave her much chance against the world number one Xie, who was the form player in the lead-up to the final.

But Zhang proved that she is still as skilfull and agile as she was in Athens by overcoming a second-game lapse to edge her opponent in 71 minutes.

Indonesia's Maria Kristin Yulianti took the bronze medal when she beat another Chinese player, world number three Lu Lan 11-21, 21-13, 21-15.

The unseeded Yulianti established herself as a player of the future after becoming the only non-Chinese woman in the field to beat a Chinese player.

It was a tearful Zhang who greeted fans on top of the podium for the medal ceremony, as well as the media later.

She later revealed that she was actually not 100 per cent physically during the tournament and had to overcome much pain to win her gold medal.

"It has been too hard," said the 33-year-old Zhang. "Every time I told reporters that there was no problem with my physical strength, but actually I was struggling with my physical condition and injuries in each game.

"I could hardly believe that I had survived all the adversities."

Zhang has been a late-comer to the China national team, having struggled in her early years but finally emerging as a genuine world-class competitor in 2003 when she won the world championship at the age of 28.

One year later, Zhang defeated Mia Audina in the Olympic final to complete her rise. However, as she proved this week in Beijing, there was much more in the tank for as she battled Xie in every department to take gold.

Before the Games, China national coach Li Yongbo surprised many by saying that he wouldn't be surprised if Zhang won the gold again.

She said her coach's words helped instill her with more confidence. "The words had greatly encouraged me to fight on the court," she said.

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