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Kim Jiyhun, center, coach of South Korea’s women’s doubles badminton team, reacted at a news conference following the disqualification of eight players.

Markus Schreiber, Associated Press

Souhan: Lose at badminton on purpose? Shuttlecock poppycock!

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • August 2, 2012 - 7:09 AM

LONDON - Say it ain't so, Yu.

Eight badminton players, including China's Yu Yang, were disqualified from the Olympics on Wednesday after officials accused them of throwing games. This raised many important questions about the sanctity of athletic competition and the future of all picnic-based Olympic sports, among them:

•They play badminton in the Olympics?

•Tanking a badminton game -- does that mean you played with a beer in both hands?

•Mark Madsen found a new sport?

The Badminton World Federation, which must office out of the same fake-wood-paneled basement rec room as the Dungeons & Dragons Hall of Justice, accused the players of "not using one's best efforts to win a match.''

Basically, the teams decided that, having qualified to advance out of round-robin play, losing a meaningless match would give them a more favorable elimination-round matchup.

So what ended the Olympics for four quality badminton teams is what American sports teams do every season. If David Stern hears about this, he's going to start vetoing trades and relocating teams "for badminton reasons.''

Remember Madsen? As a basketball player, his strength was not playing basketball. At the end of the 2006 season, the Timberwolves wanted to lose their last game, against Memphis, because a loss would allow them to hold on to their first-round draft choice. The Grizzlies had motivation to lose that game, too, to create a more desirable first-round playoff matchup.

Both teams wanted to lose. Only one had the secret weapon: Madsen's "jump'' "shot.''

Madsen went 1-for-15, including 0-for-7 from the three-point line. Last we heard from this gritty competitor, he was petitioning Stanford intramurals to let him play in a co-ed league, so he could dunk on 5-2 women.

The IOC promised to monitor sports for suspicious play in these Games, fearing that legal gambling in London could lead to game-fixing. Penalizing teams for tanking, though, creates a strange precedent, considering that the Japanese women's soccer coach ordered his team not to score in its last game for similar reasons. And that the most compelling athlete at these Games, Usain Bolt, let up at the end of his historic 100 meters in Beijing.

Should Bolt's gold medal be rescinded because he let up before the finish? Should Michael Phelps be sanctioned for easing up during the relay on Tuesday night, because he had such a big lead?

Good teams and athletes, Olympic and otherwise, earn the right to manage their own effort level. Banishing these poor badminton players, these masters of aerial curling, is just IOC grandstanding, setting an example by picking on a sport lacking the cachet to fight back.

Can you imagine the IOC punishing the USA men's basketball team, if Mike Krzyzewski decided to rest his stars during a meaningless game? No. Because basketball makes the IOC lots of money.

IOC President Jacques Rogge -- or his mannequin double, it's always hard to tell -- attended badminton on the day that will live in long-handled-racquety-sport infamy, but he left before the matches in question. The IOC said it would allow badminton's governing body to handle the matter.

Upholding the true spirit of the Olympics, the London organizing committee said there would be no refunds for the matches.

The real problem with the banished badminton teams was not their strategy, it was that they proved to have all the acting chops of Nic Cage.

Elite athletes know how to flop in style, how to coast like champs. The banished badminton teams deliberately missed shot after shot, missing badly enough to draw jeers from the crowd and warnings from the officials.

Remember, Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Black Sox player who elicited that famous line, "Say it ain't so, Joe,'' hit .375 in the World Series he was accused of throwing.

Let that be the lesson we learn from this dark day in picnic-sport history, a day that could lead to badminton being replaced as an Olympic sport by lawn darts:

If you want to tank a game, you don't ask your best players to play badly. You just put in your sport's version of Madsen, and tell him to play his best.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

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