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September 25, 2017

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China closes in on unprecedented sweep of badminton titles

LONDON -- China was more than halfway to an unprecedented sweep of the Olympic badminton titles after winning the women's singles and scandal-tainted doubles on Saturday.

The Chinese have swept the last two world championships, including in the same Wembley Arena a year ago, but never the Olympics. Li Xuerui downed top-ranked world champion Wang Yihan in the all-Chinese singles final for the second gold, then Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei won the doubles in the absence of disgraced teammates and world champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang.

While China still won the women's doubles, the scandal fallout had a silver lining for Japan, and a bronze lining for Russia, as they claimed their first badminton medals.

Tian and Zhao defeated high school friends Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa of Japan 21-10, 25-23, and China head coach Li Yongbo, who shouldered the blame for the demise of Wang and Yu, congratulated Tian and Zhao for giving the team it's fifth straight women's doubles gold medal.

Russia's Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova didn't believe their bronze was tainted by the scandal. They dispatched Alex Bruce and Michelle Li of Canada 21-9, 21-10 in the playoff, three days after both pairs thought their competition had ended.

In the singles final, Li Xuerui confirmed she was the world's best player at the expense of Wang Yihan, the world champion and No. 1.

Li won 21-15, 21-23, 21-17 in a 78-minute heavyweight fight, her 36th win in her last 37 matches. She has beaten Wang four straight times, after starting the year as a relative unknown.

Her remarkable winning run forced China to choose her at the deadline less than a month ago, ahead of former No. 1 Wang Shixian.

Also living the dream were Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen of Denmark, who won the match of the day when they stunned Chung Jae-sung and Lee Yong-dae of South Korea 17-21, 21-18, 22-20 in the men's doubles semifinals.

Cai and Fu, the four-time world champions, enjoyed their easiest win over Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong of Malaysia in two years, 21-9, 21-19. That earned them a second chance at an Olympic gold medal after losing the final in Beijing.

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