The journey of a legend consists of multiple routes. For today’s greats, the journey is one where playing the long game is the route of least resistance. This women’s singles player became a legend in less than a decade. She’s none other than the Chinese women’s singles phenom Gong Zhichao!
Gong Zhichao was one of the most outstanding women’s singles players of the late 90s. Her path to greatness began in 1996 when she won the Asian Badminton Championships. She followed up her Asian Badminton Championship victory with several International Badminton Federation (IBF) title victories, including two at the prestigious All England. Gong Zhichao was also a member of the winning Chinese Uber Cup teams on multiple occasions. She led China to three Sudirman gold medal victories, becoming one of the most pivotal players of the team from 1997 to 2001. Gong Zhichao won the Olympics in the women’s singles event in 2000. The victory was the high point of her career, though it was surrounded by controversy. Gong Zhichao announced her retirement in 2002 after the Luster International Malaysia Satellite, where she played women’s doubles alongside Wu Ying.
Without a doubt, Gong Zhichao had the secret to being great quickly. Let’s shine the spotlight on the Chinese women’s singles great Gong Zhichao!
Gong Zhichao was born on December 15, 1977 in Anhua, Hunan Province, where she spent most of her young life.
Gong Zhichao displayed noticeable potential with a racket and shuttlecock in her youth. When she turned 12, the Hunan provincial team selected her from a pool of many young talented shuttlers. She spent the next seven years sharpening her badminton skills in the provincial team.
During her time with the Hunan Provincial Team, she played in various tournaments and competed several times in the China Open. She was a tournament mainstay from 1992 to 1993.
In May 1996, Gong Zhichao caught the eye of a scout who was looking for new blood to fill the National Team’s ranks. As fate would have it, Gong Zhichao was one of the top picks. It didn’t take long before she had to test her skills against many great shuttlers beyond Chinese soil.
A Senior Debut Unlike Any Other
It’s hard to fathom a better senior debut than Gong Zhichao’s.
Fresh from being drafted by the National Team, Gong Zhichao represented China at the 1996 Asian Badminton Championships. The Asian Badminton Championships was in Surabaya, Indonesia. There, Gong Zhichao faced many talented shuttlers from Asia and beyond.
In the early stages of the tournament, Gong Zhichao breezed through the women’s singles tournament, making short work of most of her opponents. Gong Zhichao advanced as far as the finals, where she faced South Korea’s Lee Joo-Hyun.
Gong Zhichao dominated the match early, scoring a decisive 11-7 victory in the first game. Confident in herself, Gong Zhichao pulled out all the stops as she took the second game 11-1.
Winning dominantly in straight sets, Gong Zhichao won the Asian Badminton Championships. Besides winning her first international title, she also debuted in style, placing the badminton world on notice.
Her winning ways didn’t stop at the Asian Championships. Gong Zhichao was also among the competitors in the singles event of the 1996 Russian Open. Gong Zhichao won silver, losing narrowly to her compatriot Han Jingna in the finals.
After the Russian Open, Gong Zhichao set her sights on the 1996 Danish Open. After dominating the tournament, she advanced to the finals to face the Russian-Swedish powerhouse, Marina Andrievskaya.
Gong Zhichao narrowly won the first game 11-10. Luckily, she placed all doubts to rest after decisively winning the second game 11-4. The victory gave Gong Zhichao her first IBF Grand Prix title!
An Eventful 1997
Gong Zhichao kept up her consistent form going into 1997. She kicked off what would be one of the most eventful years of her career at the 1997 Japan Open. Here, she competed in the women’s singles and doubles events.
While she tasted elimination early in the women’s doubles event, she performed spectacularly at the women’s singles event. She dominated the competition and reached the finals. Awaiting her in the finals was Indonesia’s Mia Audina.
The finals match was a nail-biter as both players took a game each. In the end, Mia Audina emerged victorious after winning 11-5. Despite losing in the finals, Gong Zhichao walked away with silver after facing a formidable opponent.
Gong Zhichao eyed redemption at the 1997 Korea Open, where she advanced to the finals. In the finals, Gong Zhichao faced her compatriot Ye Zhaoying. The two players forced the match into a third game that Ye Zhaoying won. Once again, the loss meant that Gong Zhichao had to settle for the runner-up position.
Sensing that another IBF title was within her grasp, Gong Zhichao competed at the 1997 Swedish Open. There, she dominated the women’s singles tournament as usual. In the finals, she faced South Korea’s Ra Kyung-Min.
Gong Zhichao’s desire for victory was palpable as she defeated Ra in straight sets. After winning straight sets, Gong Zhichao won her second IBF Grand Prix title.
After the Swedish Open, Gong Zhichao competed at the 1997 All England, where she won the runner-up position after losing to Ye Zhaoying. The two faced off again less than three months later at the 1997 World Championships.
At the 1997 World Championships, Gong Zhichao faced Ye Zhaoying in the finals. Despite putting up a fight, she came up short after losing in straight sets. Despite the loss, Gong Zhichao walked away with a silver medal from one of the most competitive badminton championships in the world.
Gong Zhichao also played at the 1997 Badminton World Cup. Competing in the women’s singles event, she advanced to the semifinals, where the Indonesian legend Susi Susanti awaited her.
The first game was close as Gong Zhichao lost only by two points. Unfortunately, Gong Zhichao failed to capture the second game. Losing the match, Gong Zhichao had to settle for the bronze medal.
Gong Zhichao picked herself up from her loss at the World Cup when she capped off her 1997 campaign at the China Open. At the 1997 China Open, Gong Zhichao made short work of most of her opponents in the women’s singles event. The only exception was her compatriot Zeng Yaquiong who nearly beat her in the semifinals.
Advancing to the finals, Gong Zhichao faced another talented Chinese shuttler: Dai Yun. In her usual fashion, Gong Zhichao dominated the match as early as the first game, winning 11-1. The outcome of the second game was no different as Gong won it 11-5.
Winning in straight sets, Gong Zhichao captured her first China Open title!
In total, Gong Zhichao competed ten times in 1997. She was on the podium in every competition!
Gong Zhichao’s All England Record
An All England title victory can go a long way in building a badminton player’s resume. Getting more than one victory is a sign of greatness. Gong Zhichao has been on the All England podium more than once, winning the title twice in a row.
Gong Zhichao’s first All-England was in 1997. In her All England debut, she advanced to the finals where she faced Ye Zhaoying and earned a silver medal finish.
Hungry for redemption, Gong Zhichao returned for the 2000 All England. There, she blew past her opponents to advance to the finals. Awaiting her in the finals was Dai Yun.
Gong snatched the first game, winning it 11-5. However, Dai Yun rallied from behind to win the second game 11-8. Pulling out all the stops in the third game, Gong won decisively. She had won her first All England title!
Adamant to retain her women’s singles title, Gong Zhichao competed in the following edition of the All England. At the 2001 All England, Gong Zhichao entered as the favorite to win the women’s singles event — and she didn’t disappoint.
Blowing past the competition, she easily made it to the finals. The final match was between Gong Zhichao and Zhou Mi.
Gong Zhichao left nothing to chance as she snagged a decisive first-game win. She was just as dominant in the second game, winning 11-3. With a straight-set victory came another All England title and a successful title defense!
Gong Zhichao made a name for herself with her stellar All-England performances and victories. While her time on the All England podium was a feat in itself, nothing can eclipse what she achieved after the 2000 All-England.
The 2000 Olympics
After defending her title at the 2000 All England, Gong Zhichao set her sights on the Olympics. At the 2000 Olympics, Gong Zhichao played against the world’s best, including her compatriot and rival Ye Zhaoying.
Gong Zhichao kicked off her Olympic campaign with a dominant victory against Ling Wan Ting. She went on to beat Indonesia’s Lidya Djaelawijaya and Japan’s Yasuko Mizui to reach the semifinals.
In the semifinals, Gong faced her longtime rival and compatriot, Ye Zhaoying. Gong defeated her compatriot in straight sets to advance to the finals.
The finals match was between Gong Zhichao and Denmark’s Camilla Martin, who had just beaten Dai Yun in the semis.
The first game was close. Just after Gong Zhichao scored her tenth point, Camilla Martin caught up. Rally after rally, the game ended with Gong winning 13-10.
With endurance on her side, she won the second game 11-3. After winning in straight sets, Gong Zhichao won the women’s singles event and an Olympic gold medal!
Controversy Surrounding the 2000 Olympic Victory
During the 2000 Olympics, the semifinal match was the focal point of much anticipation as it pitted two of the world’s best against each other — Gong Zhichao and Ye Zhaoying. However, the hype quickly turned to controversy when speculations of “fixing” within the Chinese National Team surfaced.
After the 2000 Olympics, reports surfaced involving then-coach Li Yongbo issuing instructions to Ye Zhaoying. According to the South China Morning Post, Li Yongbo ordered Ye Zhaoying to lose on purpose to Gong Zhichao.
There have been numerous speculations about why Li Yongbo asked Ye Zhaoying to throw the semifinal against Gong Zhichao. The prevailing theory was that the National Team saw Gong as the better player to match against Camilla Martin. Despite Ye Zhaoying besting Gong on numerous occasions, the National Team perceived that Ye wouldn’t be able to beat the Danish shuttler.
Gong Zhichao played one more tournament in 2002. She competed at the Luster International Malaysia Satellite. Unlike in most of her matches, she played doubles. For the women’s doubles event, she partnered with Wu Ying.
Unfortunately, the pair lost in the quarterfinals to South Korea’s Chung Jae-Hee and Yim Kyung-Jin. After the tournament, Gong Zhichao announced her retirement from the sport.
Unfazed by Losses, Unmarred by Controversy
Despite being on the podium for most of her career, Gong Zhichao experienced her fair share of losses and controversies. Unfazed by defeat, she always came back stronger. As a result, she’ll forever be one of badminton’s modern greats — controversy or no controversy.
If you need proof, all you need to do is count how many medals she won in just six years!
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