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In the week that we celebrate two years to go until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, 107 badminton athletes from 20 countries, 74 of them from overseas, arrived in the Marvellous City to compete in the Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix. The competition, that runs until Sunday 10 August, will be held in the Aeronáutica gymnasium in Campo dos Afonsos, (Deodoro region, West Rio).
“The Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix is part of our strategy to develop badminton and generate more interest in the sport in Brazil, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, host city of the 2016 Olympic Games. Badminton is already growing in stature here and we would very much like to boost its popularity in the run-up to the Games,” said Thomas Lund, General Secretary of the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
One of the highlights of the competition will be the appearance of Guatemalan player Kevin Cordón, who at one point stood 24th in the world ranking. Pan American Champion in 2011, Cordón competed in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and at London 2012. Back in Rio after seven years away, the Guatemalan athlete has high expectations for Rio 2016.
“It’s really good to be in Rio de Janeiro two years before the Games. As soon as I arrived at the airport, I saw a lot of references to Rio 2016, and its helping me to get into the spirit of the Games. I competed in Rio at the Pan American Games and it was incredible in every sense of the word. The Olympic Games are even bigger and I’m sure that, based on my experience in 2007, everything will be prepared in the best possible way and it will be an even more amazing occasion,” said Cordón, who suffered a severe knee injury in 2013 and is fighting to recover his position in the world rankings.
The highest seeded Brazilian athlete in the badminton world rankings at number 67 before the tournament, Daniel Paiola from São Paulo state cannot wait for the competition to arrive in Brazil. For Paiola, the Grand Prix should give the sport a higher profile throughout the country.
“It’s really great to see Brazil hosting a competition of this stature, with so many Olympic athletes taking part. It’s like a seed is being planted. Badminton is growing in popularity in Brazil. We already have a permanent team that competes regularly on the world circuit and investment is increasing, but it could be even better. A tournament like this will raise the sport’s profile and I hope it will attract businesses keen to invest,” said Brazil’s top player, who took bronze at the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games.
Switzerland’s badminton representative at the London Games, Sabrina Jaquet also highlighted the importance of holding more badminton events in Brazil, principally to improve professionalism in the sport.
“The tournament is also very important for the organisers, who are sure to be involved in the Olympic Games and for the first time are to host a great international competition. It’s great training for them and they will surely be better prepared for Rio 2016 and for future competitions,” said the Swiss player, who was keen to express her love of Rio de Janeiro.
“Being here makes me think of the Rio 2016 Games. I have already visited Corcovado and the Sugarloaf. Rio is a beautiful city. It’s incredible how a city that is so developed can have so much natural beauty,” she said.
Born in China, the country that has long dominated the international badminton circuit, Beiwen Zhang represents the USA on the World Circuit. The athlete, ranked 18 in the world before the tournament, cannot hide her enthusiasm at being able to compete in the very city that will host the next Olympic Games. In 2015 she plans to come back to Rio to compete in Pavilion 4 of Riocentro, home of the Olympic competition in 2016. A badminton test event there, also part of the International Badminton Federation calendar for 2015, is scheduled for next November.
“Rio is the next host of the Olympic Games and it is impossible not to think of competing here. The standard at the Grand Prix will be very high, but I have no doubt that even more athletes would be taking part if it was being held in the same venue as the Olympic competition. It would be great to be able to compete there before the Games, and if 2015 saw another stage of the Grand Prix I would definitely come back and take part,” said the American-nationalised athlete.
The Rio 2016 Olympic badminton tournament will take place in Pavilion 4 of Riocentro, Barra da Tijuca. The competition will include five categories – men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles – with 172 competitors. As the host country, Brazil is guaranteed places in the Olympic Games for the first time ever.