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Indonesia gets badminton golds; Taiwan wins women’s singles

August 28, 2018
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Jonatan Christie of Indonesia celebrates after defeating Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan during their men's singles badminton match at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia won its most anticipated medal of the Asian Games on Tuesday with a badminton gold in men’s singles.

Badminton is the country’s most practiced sport, and it’s the only one that’s ever earned the sprawling nation a gold medal at the Olympics.

“Everyone in school, high school, in college plays,” explained Luvita Tinambunan, a volunteer working at the badminton arena. “It runs in our country’s blood. It’s part of us like fried rice.”

For added flavor, China is the Olympic power in the sport but failed to get any medals in men’s or women’s singles. Going back 44 years at the Asian Games, that’s only happened twice before in men’s singles, and only once before in women’s singles.

“This win is historic for Indonesian badminton,” said Jonatan Christie, who beat Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan 21-18, 20-22, 21-15. He celebrated the victory by ripping off his white shirt, then circled the court shaking his right fist, gesturing with both hands for more applause.

Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying, the world’s No. 1-ranked woman, defeated Pusarla Venkata Sindhu of India 21-13, 21-16.

Indonesia also won men’s doubles with two Indonesian teams facing each other in the final. Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo defeated countrymen Fajar Alfian and Muhammad Ardianto 13-21, 21-18, 24-22.

Badminton history runs deep in Indonesia, and all over Asia.

Susi Susanti and Alan Budikusuma won men’s and women’s singles titles in 1992 in Barcelona, the first time badminton was a medal sport at the Olympics. Susanti and Budikusuma later married, and Susanti lit the flame at this year’s opening ceremony in Jakarta.

In 1962, the last time Indonesia hosted the Asian Games, local player Tan Joe Hok also won the gold.

“It was very easy for me to be able to win for the people,” Christie said through a translator. “Just looking at the support. It is amazing.”

The finals felt like a prize fight and sounded like rolling thunder, erupting when any player landed a leaping, overhead smash. This is not the badminton played at your Sunday picnic.

The crowd chanted non-stop: “IN-DO-NESIA, IN-DO-NESIA, IN-DO-NESIA” with many fans waving red and white Indonesian flags and thumping plastic batons.

The Taiwanese relentlessly cheered for their side, shouting “JAI-YOU, JAI-YOU,” which roughly translated means “let’s go.”

“I think this win is about giving hope to the people back home that you can be successful even in a sport like badminton and that everything is possible,” Tai said through a translator.

Taiwan competes in the Asian Games and Olympics using a neutral flag and under the name of “Chinese Taipei.”

“Today’s final wasn’t a tough battle,” Tai said. “I was comfortable throughout.”

She said she learned the game playing with older players, who specialize in quick wrists rather than quick feet. She has both, and used them to chase Sindhu all over the court.

Sindhu can’t seem to break through for gold. She had won four silver medals in the last four major tournaments — the Olympics, two world championships and the Commonwealth Games. Now a fifth in the Asian Games.

Despite this, she was ranked recently by Forbes as the world’s seventh-richest female athlete with earnings and endorsements of $8.5 million. Serena Williams tops the list.

“Unfortunately, I lost the finals,” she said. “But I think — never mind — I have to come back much stronger.”

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Mohamed Abdullah contributed to this report.

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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