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Suzhou thriller a smash hit

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-23 09:53
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Team China competes against South Korea during the final match at the BWF Sudirman Cup at the Suzhou Olympic Sports Center on Sunday. WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY

Last week's action marked the first time many international players had returned to China since the pandemic.

The foreign stars enjoyed a warm welcome from fans in Suzhou — none more so than world No 1 Axelsen. The Dane, who speaks fluent Mandarin, sustained a left hamstring injury during a quarterfinal match and subsequently withdrew from the tournament. His silver lining was the support and best wishes he received from Chinese fans.

"I'm on my way home at the airport, and I want to express my thanks to all the Chinese fans who have been supporting me. There were so many Chinese fans cheering for me at the venue, hotel and online. I'm so happy to return to China to play. I hope the next time I can play more matches in China, and I hope I can recover as soon as possible," Axelsen said in a video posted on his Weibo account.

Pusarla V. Sindhu of India was also impressed by the atmosphere in Suzhou.

"This is the first time after a long time for me to come to China. I think the facilities here are very good and I can feel the enthusiasm of the crowds, which are fantastic. And here we have a really big stadium. I'm happy to be back in China again," Sindhu told reporters.

Organizers ratcheted up the feel-good factor by hosting a series of retirement ceremonies for people who have forged careers in badminton. Chen Long, the 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist, was among the players to be honored.

"I decided to end my badminton career here at the Sudirman Cup. It was not an easy decision, and it was hard for me to say goodbye. Right now, I'm pretty emotional. I want to thank Team China, my family and all the fans. The 17 years I spent in the national team was the best time of my life," said Chen Long.

"I want to share my experience with the younger generation of players. I hope the young Team China can continue to blossom, and I will keep contributing to this sport."

Organizers excel

To ensure the world's elite badminton aces enjoyed the best possible competition and living environment, local organizers pulled out all the stops.

Feng Tao, an official of the Suzhou Olympic Sports Center, said ensuring the courts were of the highest quality was a priority.

"For instance, the gap between any two pieces of wood flooring under the courts should not exceed one millimeter. Amateur players would probably not notice the difference, but the pros are very sensitive to the quality of the courts," Feng told media.

"After we finished preparing the courts, we asked players to train on them, and then we made adjustments based on their feedback. We made sure they enjoyed the best courts."

Shuttlecocks are sensitive to even the slightest current of air, so ensuring the correct conditions inside the venue was another task that required extreme precision and care. Air-conditioning vents were, therefore, installed under the seats in the stands.

The lights inside the venue were also state of the art. Feng explained that providing players with the correct illumination level (measured in lux) was crucial.

"Usually in training venues, the lights are just 500 lux, but in our venue the lights reach 1,800 lux. Also, we have to ensure the lights are shadow-less, so the players aren't affected by the lights and can focus on their matches," Feng added.

About 300 volunteers, mostly local university students, served at the Sudirman Cup. From translators to guides, the volunteers provided players, media and all participants with comprehensive help.

"We all know that the Sudirman Cup is the world's top badminton competition, and we have players and fans from all over the world gathered here. As volunteers, we represent not just ourselves but also the image of the city," said volunteer Fan Wenjie.

A number of promotional badminton events were staged on the sidelines of the tournament. One highlight of these activities was the visit of star Chinese players Huang Dongping, Chen Qingchen and Shi Yuqi to local primary and middle schools to interact with and coach students.

"Badminton has a huge fan base in China, especially among young people. Through these activities, we hope our champions can pass on their values and spirit to the next generation and enrich their lives," said Xia Xuanze, a vice-president of the Chinese Badminton Association.

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