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Peter Gade of Denmark reacts during his 2-1 semifinal loss to Lee Hyun-Il of South Korea at the Thomas Cup in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Friday. Gade, who's long been the best player in Europe, will retire after this summer's Olympics and move on to coaching. [Photo by Cui Meng / China Daily]
Retirement will strike another blow to continent's badminton
A mere three European teams advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2012 Thomas Cup and only one reached the semis.
That performance reflects the environment of elite badminton worldwide, with Asia thriving while Europe fades.
The imbalance could get even worse. Danish veteran Peter Gade, the long-time spearhead of European badminton, plans to retire after the London Olympics.
"It's going to be an open field, you will see other players coming up and taking the leading positions," Gade said.
He was speaking just after Denmark had lost to South Korea, 3-1, in the semifinals on Friday.
The former world No 1 also said most of those rising stars would come from Asia as the talent pool in Europe continues to shrink.
"I hope the young guys from Denmark will be part of it but I don't know. I don't see young players from other countries (in Europe) coming forward," he said.
Since making his mark on the world stage by claiming the All England Open in 1999, Gade has been leading Europe's challenge against Asian powerhouses like China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The most crowned European player of all time, Gade has never won singles gold at the Olympics or World Championships, nor steered Denmark to a team title at the Sudirman Cup or Thomas Cup.
However, his consistently strong performances at the world's top events have provided strong motivation for fellow European shuttlers and created a degree of balance in an Asia-dominated sport.
Led by the father of two daughters, the Danish squad often crashes the Asian party and its regular medal-finishes provide encouragement for its Europesan "allies".
"No one can play like Peter, that's for sure," said Danish world No 13 Jan Jorgensen after losing the team's second singles match to Korean Shon Wan-ho.
"There will be no one who can play like him again. He's been playing so well for almost two decades."
However, Gade is running out of gas and the 35-year-old is starting to drop big matches to much younger opponents from China and South Korea. That has led to his world ranking tumbling to No 5.
The huge talent base in China, South Korea and Japan has produced promising stars generation after generation, but Gade remains alone on the European side of the court.
"It's a tough situation," said Jorgensen. "Badminton in Asian countries is strong all the time. We are struggling to catch up with them. We (Denmark) did a good job, but the rest of Europe is far behind. Germany has begun to rise a little bit, but I think the only challenge for Asia is still the Danes. We don't have as many talented players. It's hard to keep up the pace."
Danish head coach Lars Uhre shrugged off the negative effect of China's long-standing domination of the sport and said he expects a more balanced game in the near future.
"I don't think (China's dominance) will hurt enthusiasm for the game in Europe," Uhre said.
"But of course, it's more interesting when you have more competitive nations.
"It's up to other European countries to rise up. Hopefully, we will have some other countries from Europe help us to beat the Asians."
Gade, who says he will take up coaching when he hangs up his racket, has great confidence in his countrymen, but the gap remains big.
"I believe in the young guys. They've shown they are capable of taking on the best. They just need to do that every time, not just once in a while."
Those young guns can't wait to surpass the senior stars.
"I am looking forward to those guys quitting (Gade and China's Lin Dan). It will make some room for us," joked Jorgensen.
"They are blocking the way in all the big tournaments right now. Those guys will be really tough acts to follow.
"I am not looking to take over Peter's place. I will go in new ways, my own way. Hopefully, it will take me far."