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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shuttlecock Lion of Denmark Ruins Asia's Day

ATLANTA -- The Danish John McEnroe.

He used to throw rackets. He used to argue with officials. Now, he's just a happily married guy with a 1-year-old son and a penchant for wearing seven-year-old "lucky" sneakers and wielding a six-year-old "lucky" racket.

Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen is a wealthy superstar in Denmark. In Asia, he is lionized.

He is the world's best badminton player.

Thursday, Hoyer-Larsen won the men's badminton gold at the Centennial Summer Olympics. He upset Asia's day.

And for Asia, there was a huge double bill: badminton in the morning, table tennis in the afternoon.

In Georgia State University's small, steamy gymnasium, badminton players competed for gold medals for only the second time in Olympic history.

As the last shuttlecock floated to the floor, Hoyer-Larsen dropped to the ground, banged his fist and then ran around the gym waving to a few hundred Danish fans who had spent most of the match screaming Europe's all-purpose "Ol?" soccer chant.

Dong Jiong cried.

A billion or so Asians watched on television.

Not bad for a sport that some of us associate with a backyard barbecue.

But in China, Indonesia and South Korea, plus parts of Europe, badminton is serious stuff. Fourteen million Asians play the game. There's a world tour with rankings, prize money and endorsements. There's even an All England championship -- the Wimbledon for the shuttlecock set.

Basically, Olympic badminton is like tennis, without the whining. The shuttlecock comes off the racket at around 320 kilometers per hour and slows down very quickly, like a parachute opening at 10,000 feet. The athletes grunt and groan for shots. The crowds applaud.

And the players really are stars. Women's gold medalist Bang Soo-hyun of South Korea, daughter of a comedian, doesn't do punch lines; she rams slam dunks down the throats of her opponents, beating one unlucky player earlier in the tournament in 10 minutes.

Hoyer-Larsen is said to be a badminton millionaire, even though he claims to earn "about what the 100th-ranked tennis player does." But he said he didn't play in the Olympics for money. He played for the medal.

Next stop: table tennis at the Georgia World Congress Center, a cavernous hall that is the Games' version of "Let's Make A Deal." Behind door No. 1: wrestling. Behind door No. 2: team handball. Behind door No. 3: pingpong.

The all-China men's final matched Liu Guoliang, the sleek rising star, against Wang Tao, the 14-year veteran of China's national team.

Who could blame the Chinese for being serene before a gold-medal match. The sport is their national game. They are expected to dominate the world.

Table tennis helped bring Americans to China during the Nixon administration. It's also the sport in which politics flared at these Games, when spectators from Taiwan at the women's final Wednesday were told not to wave their blue and red flags, which were banned here as a concession to mainland China.

But Thursday's men's final was a snooze.

They split the first four games, but a funny thing happened in the final game. Wang started to play like an amateur. He gave up 12 of the first 13 points. He lost 21-5. He wasn't even angry.

Strange how the guard changes in Chinese table tennis.

Liu got his gold; Wang silver.

And Asia had its day.