There’s no denying the competitiveness of men’s doubles badminton. It’s so competitive that China — a world badminton powerhouse — suffered an Olympic gold drought in this event. Two men have received accolades for putting a stop to this, and one of them is the men’s doubles tactician Cai Yun.
Cai Yun was born on January 19, 1980 in Jiangsu, China. Cai Yun made his mark on the men’s doubles division alongside his longtime partner Fu Haifeng. He has also partnered with other talented doubles players. Once, he paired with Xu Shen to win silver in the 2008 French Open. In addition to Fu Haifeng, Lu Kai was a recurrent partner of Cai Yun’s. Cai Yun is the holder of one Olympic gold medal, numerous Super Series, and several Grand Prix titles. With Fu Haifeng, Cai Yun is also a four-time Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championship title holder. In 2016, Cai Yun announced his retirement.
Individually, Cai Yun was a valuable partner to whoever he partnered with. Read on to learn more about one of the best players in men’s doubles history.
Cai Yun was born on January 19, 1980. He was born in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China. At an early age, his mother encouraged him to pursue art, but he looked toward sports instead.
Unfortunately, his body didn’t agree with his ambitions at the time — the young Cai Yun didn’t grow physically endowed. Hence, his school’s physical education teacher encouraged him to try badminton.
Badminton gave the young Cai Yun more than a pastime — it gave Cai Yun a way to channel his playfulness and focus. By the age of nine, Cai Yun had already become hooked, showing early signs of proficiency with a racket and shuttlecock.
When he reached high school, he competed in many boys’ singles and doubles badminton contests. He swept all of his competitions, foreshadowing a promising career as a singles badminton player.
When Cai Yun turned 19, he caught the eye of scouts within the national team. His first year on the team went smoothly until tragedy struck. In 2000, Cai Yun was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, which forced him to leave badminton to get heart surgery. Following a successful procedure, Cai Yun faced a dilemma: he was torn between his health and his love of badminton.
In the end, he chose badminton. He also decided that he would carry on as a doubles player — a decision that would prove to be fruitful.
Early Career: Cai Yun as a Singles Badminton Player
Following heart surgery, Cai Yun beat the odds and competed at the highest levels of the game. In 2000, he kicked off his “recovery year” with performances in several major open championships. However, he had yet to play as a doubles competitor. For much of 2000, Cai Yun played as a singles competitor.
His first open tournament for the year was the 2000 Dutch Open. The 2000 Dutch Open took place on October 22, with over 80 entrants in the singles division. Cai Yun didn’t make it past the preliminaries.
A week later, he competed again in the 2000 Danish Open. He got farther in this open, reaching the round of 32. However, he was eliminated shortly after.
The Shift to Doubles and the Beginning of a Flourishing Partnership
A change became necessary. Considering his lackluster beginnings and poor health, Cai Yun decided to transition to doubles. 2002 became the year when he first partnered with Fu Haifeng.
The pair spearheaded their doubles run at the 2002 Realkredit Danmark Open. Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng didn’t win. However, they bounced back in the 2002 China Open when they won bronze in the men’s doubles event. Their bronze medal from the 2002 China Open was the first medal for the newly-formed duo.
The pair didn’t win another medal until the 2003 BWF World Championships. Defeating Indonesia’s Sigit Budiarto and Candra Wijaya, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng won bronze.
The pair followed their podium-worthy performance with another at the 2003 Proton Eon Malaysia Open. It was here where Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng won their first silver medal, but it was far from their last. The pair achieved the same feat at the 2003 Yonex German Open.
2005 — a Year of Gold
After 2003, the partnership between Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng began to produce serious results. In 2005, the pair won three gold medals in four major competitions.
The pair kicked their 2005 off to a flying start in the 2005 Yonex German Open. They battled 43 pairs to get to the finals, where Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng faced Jens Eriksen and Martin Lundgaard Hansen.
Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng lost the first game, but bounced back to win the second and third. The victory netted them their first medal of the year.
The next stop was the prestigious All England Open. The pair’s confidence was still fresh, having won the German Open just a few days prior. Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng faced Denmark’s Lars Paaske and Jonas Rasmussen. Cai Yun’s tactics and speed complemented Fu Haifeng’s power and coordination during the match, and the combination was too much for even the Danish powerhouse pair to match. Beating their opponents in two straight games, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng won their first All England Open gold medal.
Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng then competed in the 2005 Hong Kong Badminton Championship. Once again, the pair crossed paths with Denmark’s Jens Eriksen and Martin Lundgaard Hansen in the finals. Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng came out on top, defeating their Danish opponents impressively.
To cap off the year, Cai and Fu entered the 2005 Badminton World Cup. They faced pressure, as the World Cup was held in China at the Olympic Park in Yiyang, but they still managed to advance to the finals. Separating them from the gold medal was the Indonesian duo of Sigit Budiarto and Candra Wijaya.
Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng defeated Budiarto and Wijaya in two straight games. With this game, the Chinese pair finished the year by winning the 2005 Badminton World Cup.
Cai Yun’s BWF World Championship Reign with Fu Haifeng
The years following 2005 were some of the most successful for Cai Yun. For proof, you just need to look at his track record with Fu Haifeng in the Badminton World Championships. Alongside his partner, Cai Yun won the BWF World Championships four times!
The first time Cai Yun tasted gold at the World Championships was in 2006. In the 2006 BWF World Championships, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng faced England’s Robert Blair and Anthony Clark. Cai and Fu quickly dispatched their opponents in two straight games, winning their first BWF World Championship.
A hat-trick of BWF World Championship wins followed, starting in 2009. Cai Yun, alongside Fu Haifeng, defeated the South Korean duo of Lee Yong Dae and Chung Jae Sung at the 2009 BWF World Championships.
Cai and Fu defended their BWF World Championship crowns in 2010 in France. They faced the experienced Malaysian pair of Kien Keat Koo and Tan Boon Heong. In a nail-biting match that went to a third game, Cai and Fu successfully defended their titles.
They completed the unprecedented BWF World Championship men’s double hat-trick in 2011. At the 2011 BWF World Championships, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng played against South Korea’s Ko Sung Hyun and Yoo Yeon Seong. The match had spectators on the edge of their seats with only a handful of points separating the two teams in each rally. Eventually, Cai and Fu proved to be the superior pair, beating their opponents in the second game.
The jubilation was palpable as Cai Yun dropped into tears after the final point. At the same time, Fu Haifeng raised his left hand in triumph, holding up four fingers to signal their fourth BWF World Championship victory.
Cai Yun’s Olympic Achievements
Cai Yun represented China in the Olympics three times. In all of his Olympic outings, he played with Fu Haifeng.
The first time Cai played in the Olympics was in 2004. Unfortunately, he and Fu Haifeng came up short in the quarterfinals at the hands of Jens Eriksen and Martin Lundgaard Hansen.
The pair returned four years later with a shot at redemption. The 2008 Olympics took place in Beijing, meaning that Cai Yun had both support and pressure from the home crowd. They advanced to the finals to play against Indonesia’s Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan.
The Chinese duo dominated the first game, winning 21 – 12. However, the Indonesian team fought back to claim the second game. A third game became necessary.
The pressure got to the Chinese pair, and the Indonesian team won the third game. Despite the impressive accomplishment of winning silver, Cai Yun was disappointed that he came short of Olympic gold on his home soil. Fu Haifeng shared his partner’s disappointment.
This disappointment fueled Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng. Taking with them the lessons learned from past Olympic showings, they entered the 2012 London Olympics with more focus and determination. Once again, this got the pair to the finals.
In the finals, they faced Denmark’s Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen. Unlike the previous Olympics, Cai and Fu dominated their opponents in two straight matches. Their dominant performance was more than enough to get them their first Olympic gold medal.
The win was special not just for the pair of Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, but for Chinese badminton as a whole. Until 2012, China hadn’t won a gold medal in the men’s doubles event. Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng’s win got China its momentous first Olympic gold medal in the men’s double — ending the doubles Olympic gold drought.
The End of Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng’s Partnership
In 2014, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng decided to part ways and pair up with younger talent. Fu Haifeng partnered with Zhang Nan and went on to win Super Series tournaments and the Olympics in 2016.
Cai Yun paired with an up-and-coming doubles specialist — Lu Kai. Together, the pair won the 2014 Singapore Open by defeating Chinese Taipei’s Lee Sheng Mu and TsaiChia Hsin.
In 2015, the pair kicked off the year with the Swiss Open and breezed through to the finals. To win the Swiss Open, they needed to defeat Malaysia’s Goh V Shem and Tan Wee Kiong.
The match went the distance as both pairs snagged one game apiece. In the third game, Cai Yun and Lu Kai defeated their Malaysian counterparts, giving Cai Yun and Lu Kai their second gold medal as a team.
Cai Yun retired in 2016. His long-time partner, Fu Haifeng, retired a year later. The performances and accomplishments of the two were recognized by the BWF in 2021. In that same year, the BWF inducted Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng into the Hall of Fame in a virtual ceremony.
In an interview with BWF TV, Cai Yun expressed his gratitude for Fu Haifeng as a partner. Cai Yun expressed how vital he was to his career and the success of their team.
As of his retirement, Cai Yun is happily married and a father. He’s also a coach of the Jiangsu Badminton Team and a member of the Chinese Badminton Association.
Cai Yun: An Icon in the World of Men’s Doubles
Cai Yun is the epitome of greatness in the world of men’s doubles. With multiple titles and an Olympic gold medal in his trophy cabinet, Cai Yun is a shining example for young men’s doubles shuttlers everywhere.
Beneath his accomplishments were tragedy and disadvantage, all of which Cai Yun overcame. If you ask me, Cai Yun is also one of the greats for his ability to turn obstacles into achievements — and his career is proof of that!
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