RIO DE JANEIRO: Japanese shuttlers Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi left their Danish counterparts wishing they could turn back time after snatching gold from their grasp in a fiery women’s doubles final on Thursday.
The Japan duo sensationally came from behind to defeat a devastated Christinna Pedersen and Kamilla Rytter Juhl of Denmark 18-21, 21-9, 21-19 in a thrilling encounter at the Rio Olympics.
The match, which saw an angry Juhl remonstrate with the umpire for several minutes at one point, was locked at 16-16 in the final game as the Danes and Japanese traded point for point.
Denmark raced ahead 19-16 and looked like they were heading for victory, only to be stunned by their opponents.
Japan won five points on the bounce to snatch the game, match and gold medal.
“We didn’t think at all that the gold was going to be ours,” said Pedersen, who adds silver to the mixed doubles bronze she won at London 2012.
“But my dream right now is to go back and play again from 19-16.
“Of course we’re disappointed but we did the best we could. That’s sport,” the 30-year-old added.
Juhl, 32, had exchanged some words with the umpire mid-way through the first game, angrily complaining that Japanese coaches had been calling shots.
“It was just a little incident. It’s a final and there were lots of emotions,” Juhl told reporters.
“Of course we don’t want the coaches to call it out but it was okay after that and it wasn’t something that really affected the match,” she added.
Japan’s diminutive Matsutomo immediately hit back.
“The European players are often making claims during games. So it didn’t affect us much,” said the 24-year-old, admitting that she thought they going to lose at 19-16 down.
“The Danes were in great physical condition. They are very tall so we needed to use our brains to fight them,” Takahashi added.
The Japanese pair become the first non-Chinese women’s doubles champions since the 1992 Barcelona Games when badminton officially debuted at the Olympics.
“We are happy that we are able to break their dominance. This was our goal,” smiled Matsutomo.
Earlier in the day, South Koreans Jung Kyung-Eun and Shin Seung-Chan had defeated China’s Tang Yuanting and Yu Yang to claim bronze.
The South Korean pair breezed through the first game, taking it 21-8 before clinching victory and third place on the podium with a more hard fought 21-17 win in the second.