The house DJ at Wembley Arena was in the right spirit, breaking out Carl Douglas’ disco classic Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting early in the women’s doubles bronze medal badminton match. So too was the crowd. “Everybody loves Bruce-Li Fight-ing,” sang one very loud, and presumably well-liquored British man just before a serve. But all the cheeky goodwill couldn’t bridge the gap between Canada’s Alex Bruce and Michelle Li and there Russian opponents, Nina Vislova and Valeria Sorokina.
The Russian duo took the first game 21-9 in a brisk 12 minutes. And then they won the second game 21-10, securing themselves a place on the podium in just under a half-hour’s work.
For the Canadians it was all gravy anyway. Bruce and Li had been bounced out of the tournament by the same Russian pair on Tuesday, only to be given another shot thanks to the disqualification of four higher-ranked teams for blatantly throwing matches. They then surprised even themselves by defeating Australians Leanne Choo and Renuga Veeran in the quarter-finals, and pushing the world’s fourth best team—Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa of Japan—to three games in the semis. (The Japanese pair will face off against a Chinese team for the gold later today.)
Bruce says their roller-coaster Olympics is something she will always remember. “At first we felt guilty for getting this chance, but after 30 seconds we said ‘Forget it. We’re getting another match. Let’s go for it.” But it is the unexpected level of support from home and the British crowds that has left them breathless. Although last night, needing to calm down and focus, they banned themselves from the internet. “I can’t wait to check my email and Twitter and Facebook,”says Bruce. “I hope they’re still supporting us even though we lost today.”
The bronze game may have been the last match for the young doubles pair. In the fall, Li will return to her pre-med studies at the University of Toronto, while Bruce moves on to Western to pursue an engineering degree. With more than two hours of the 401 separating them, they are unsure if they will be able to find the time to practice and play together.
“I’m more of a singles player anyway, so maybe I’ll just focus on that,” says Li, who hopes to compete in Rio in 2016. “And if it happens for us, then it’s meant to be and we’ll play together.”
The chants of “Bruce-Li” in London were the first they had ever heard and will echo in their memories for a lifetime. But does Li ever wish that maybe—just once—the crowd would have turned it around?
“No,” she laughs. “That wouldn’t work. There’s no such person.”