China badminton coach Zhang Ning fired as overhaul begins for World Championships and Asian Games
Little known coach of Hunan provincial team replaces the two-time Olympic gold medallist
Zhang Ning has been fired as the coach of China’s women’s badminton team following their disastrous performance at the recent Uber Cup.
China has won the biennial team tournament, considered the highest team honour in the women’s game, a record 14 times but only managed a joint third-placed finish with South Korea in Bangkok last month.
As the defending champions, they were surprisingly beaten by hosts Thailand 3-2 in the semi-finals. Japan, who overcame the Koreans in the other semi-final, went on to win their sixth title with a 3-0 victory over Thailand, sealing their first Uber Cup success since 1981.
Zhang, the only Chinese player to capture two Olympic women’s singles gold medals with her victories in the Athens and Beijing Games, took the blame for China’s showing. She has been replaced by little known Luo Yigang, coach of the Hunan provincial team.
Zhang appears to have paid the price for the poor overall strength in depth of the women’s game in China. Chen Yufei or He Bingjiao, ranked fifth and eighth respectively, are the only two mainlanders in the singles top 10. World No 1 pairing Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan are the only duo from the mainland in the top 10 of the doubles rankings.
After pocketing her second Olympic gold medal in front of home crowds in Beijing, Zhang ended her playing career to become a coach for the national team, before being promoted to singles head coach two years later.
However, she was sidelined before the Rio Olympics to become the assistant coach to former men’s player Chen Jin. Zhang returned to her previous post after a poor showing at the 2016 Games.
With the World Championships kicking off in Nanjing next month, followed by the Asian Games in Indonesia, China will be hoping the change quickly inspires a positive turnaround in form.