LONDON – After losing to Russia Tuesday night in doubles badminton, Alex Bruce figured the competition part of her Olympic experience was over.
She was mostly fine with that. Bruce and teammate Michele Li had played pretty well. They'd had fun and had done about what they sought out, representing Canada on the competitive world stage.
So she slept in until 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Wembley Plaza hotel, not a care in the world. The 22-year-old from Toronto planned on getting a leisurely lunch, coming over to the badminton venue as a spectator and then meeting her family for dinner.
Then Bruce checked the internet and saw there was a brewing controversy over four women’s doubles teams throwing games during pool play in an effort to secure more advantageous spot in the quarterfinals.
Moments later her coach, Toby Ng, called and said that there was a chance Canada might be brought back into the tournament.
"He said, 'stand by, you might be back in,'" Bruce said.
At 3:30 p.m. they got the call they were surprise quarterfinalists against Australia, which also thought it was out. Bruce and Li hustled over to the venue, promptly beat the Aussies two games to one and by a little after 7 p.m. London time were advanced to the semifinals. They’ll take on a Japanese team Thursday at 6:30 locally.
Canada now has two chances to earn its first badminton medal ever. In the most unusual of circumstances.
"It was a little crazy," Bruce said with a laugh.
"Me and Alex were in shock," Li said.
It’s one thing to make a surprise challenge at a medal. It’s another to be eliminated and then return to make a surprise challenge at a medal.
The game throwing scandal overwhelmed the sport on Wednesday. Bruce said she watched one of the matches the night before, noticing that top players were making easy errors.
"They were missing a lot of serves," Bruce said.
Badminton World Federation officials noticed also and called two games and four teams into questions, one from China, one from Indonesia and two from South Korea. All four were disqualified from the Games around midday Wednesday and South Korea’s appeal was rejected around 3:30.
That’s when Canada, as well as a team from Australia, Russia and South Africa was inserted into the quarterfinals to replace the powerhouse teams.
And now Bruce and Li are moving on, in rarified air for a Canadian team. They aren’t apologizing for a break they got. Nor should they.
"When we first found out that definitely went running through our heads," Bruce said. "But what happened, happened. Anyone would use that opportunity. We weren’t going to walk sheepishly out on the court."
In fact they played some of their best badminton of the Games, jumping out to a 21-9 victory in the first game. Australia won the second 21-18 but Canada held on in the third 21-18.
If anything, the surprise eliminated any worries about playing in such a big match.
"It took the nerves out and the pressure off," Li said. "I was just planning on sleeping in and relaxing today."
Now they’ll face a powerful Japanese team of Mizuki Fuji and Reika Kakiiwa, which entered knock out play seeded fourth and had to endure an allegation themselves of trying to fix a result. The BWF found no wrongdoing.
The challenge will be great but the Canadians are playing with house money. They have two shots at a medal now. China and Russia will play in the other semifinal and the respective winners and losers will meet Saturday in the gold and bronze medal games.
"It’s a golden opportunity," Bruce said.
Back from elimination, why not dream big?