Gu Jun was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China, on January 3, 1975. On her 7th birthday, Gu received a badminton racket as a present from her parents. As Gu had no previous exposure to badminton, she did not show much interest in the gift. Her birthday present came in handy two years later when she began playing badminton.
A year later, Gu began playing with Ge Fei at the age of 10 years old. In 1987, Ge and Gu were both accepted into the Jiangsu provincial team. To gain experience, both Gu and Ge were sent to play at the 1991 China Open but were quickly out of the draw. The next year, the pair made waves in China when they won the Chinese National Championships in 1992 at the young age of 17 years old. To no one’s surprise, Ge and Gu entered the national team the following year.
Like most badminton players, Gu and Ge competed in all three events but the coaches quickly decided for the two girls to form a permanent partnership in Women’s Doubles due to their telepathic understanding on the court. Before permanently partnering Ge Fei in 1993, Gu had success at the junior level. She won back to back titles with Han Jingna at the 1991 Bimantara Cup (World Junior Invitation Championships) and the first-ever IBF World Championships in 1992 both held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Ge and Gu’s first excursion out of China was for the 1993 Wimbledon Open. They were entered into all three events and the pair met each other in the Women’s Singles final where Gu lost to Ge 4-11, 6-11. Their doubles run to the final was extremely uneventful with a bye, two walkovers and a 15-0, 15-1 match against a local pair. The unseeded Gu and Ge easily demolished Erica Van Den Heuvel and Nicole Van Hooren in the final with the score of 15-5, 15-6. Later that year, the Chinese pair repeated their success at the 1993 Thailand Open. The year of 1994 saw Gu and Ge win a second consecutive title at the Thailand Open and a series of new titles at the Asian Badminton Championships, Malaysia Open, Singapore Open and World Grand Prix Finals. Gu and Ge would go on to hold a 6-year reign in Women’s Doubles from 1994-1999 at the World Grand Prix Finals.
At the 1995 World Championships, Gu and Ge were stopped in the quarterfinal round by Gil Young-ah and Jang Hye-ock of Korea with the scores of 15-11, 15-11. The Koreans continued their rampage and surpassed Qin Yiyuan and Tang Yongshu of China and Finarshi and Lili Tampi of Indonesia to become the 1995 World Champions. Gu and Ge met them again at the 1996 Japan Open and lost 5-15, 17-14, 10-15. This was to be Gu and Ge’s only loss of 1996.
Later that year at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Ge and Gu went into the quadrennial event as the 2nd seeds. The Chinese pair breezed into the final round without any of their opponents achieving a double-digit score. Their number one seeded rivals, Gil and Jang had a tougher semi-final around against their Chinese compatriots, Qin and Tang, but the Koreans narrowly made it through 15-12, 10-15, 18-16.
In the final, Ge and Gu were ready with the perfect strategy for the Korean rivals. They devised a plan to first attack down the sidelines of the court before changing to attack in the middle. Their plan was executed perfectly and the Koreans were left stranded with 5-15, 5-15 and a silver medal to take home. To put their Olympic domination into perspective, Gu and Ge’s opponents only managed to score a meager total of 39 points to their 120 points.
Gu’s father, Gu Dayuan, was put in charge of a failing weaving machine company in 1995. The company lost 7,000,000 MRB in profit and was in debt by 500,000 RMB. As the machinery and warehouse were falling apart, the factory was only half functioning. He took the 100,000 USD that Gu gave to him from her prize money to exchange into 700,000 RMB to pay the employees’ salary. That was still not enough so Gu and her father went to the bank to mortgage 16 of her most prized gold medals. The branch manager was so touched by Gu and her father’s selfless determination and loaned them 500,000 RMB. The money was used to revive the company. One year later, the company created a new product and the situation was slowly improving. After her victory in Atlanta, Gu brought her Olympic gold medal to the factory and hung it around the neck of an older worker. She motivated the factory workers by saying that there was no obstacle that they cannot overcome if everyone worked their hardest. Gu made a promise to all of them that in 4 years’ time, she will be an Olympic champion again and in return, they promised her that they will become a successful company.
The year of 1996 was a fantastic year for the pair. Aside from their Olympic gold medal, they won the first of their many All England. Gu and Ge never lost at the All England from 1996-2000. They pulled out from the 1999 All England due to an injury suffered at a domestic tournament shortly before. Their withdrawal disrupted a potential 5-year reign at the All England as they won in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000.
To summarize Ge and Gu’s many individual titles, they earned crowns at the Asian Badminton Championships (1994, 1995, 1998, 1999), China Open (1994, 1995, 1997, 1999), Malaysia Open (1994, 1997, 1999), Singapore Open (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998), Thailand Open (1993, 1994, 2000), Indonesia Open (1995), Japan Open (1995, 1997, 1998, 1999) Chinese Taipei Open (1996), World Cup (1996, 1997), Korea Open (1997) and Swiss Open (1997, 1998).
In 1998, Gillian Clark wrote that “The current world, Olympic and All England champions, Ge Fei and Gu Jun, stand head and shoulders above the rest. It is now an incredible 26 months since the top Chinese pair failed to win a tournament in which they participated. Gu Jun is the more dominant and aggressive of the two, and wonderfully expressive in her manner.” Clark added, “Gu Jun (…) is a very compact, strong player who thunders down smashes from the rear court. But she is a lot more than just physical, she also has great tactical awareness. The ability, not only to read the game, but also to plan ahead, often setting up the weak reply for her partner to make the winning kill. And her extrovert character gives her the courage to go for the most outrageous winners from virtually anywhere on the court.”
The Chinese pair reigned so supreme that their defeat at the hand of their compatriots, Qiang Hong and Liu Lu 7-15 4-15 in a group match at the 1997 World Grand Prix Finals raised many eyebrows. It was reportedly their first loss in nearly 2 years. Qiang and Liu’s victory secured them a spot in the semi-final ahead of an Indonesian pair. Christian Hadinata, the Indonesia team manager, was extremely skeptical of Gu and Ge’s loss and filed a formal complaint about match fixing. When interviewed about their loss, Gu said that Ge was too tired from playing Mixed Doubles earlier that day. The tournament referee found no grounds for foul play and allowed the tournament to proceed as normal. Gu and Ge continued on and won the entire tournament.
In 1998, Ge and Gu competed for China at the Asian Games. Ge and Gu naturally won the Women’s Doubles gold medal in the individual competition. They were also key players in the team event in which China won gold. In addition, Gu and Ge contributed greatly to China’s gold medal success at 3 consecutive Sudirman Cups (1996, 1997, 1999) and 2 straight Uber Cups (1998, 2000).
With such success on the international circuit, it is no wonder that Ge and Gu clinched back to back titles at the 1997 and 1999 World Championships. Ge and Gu crushed their compatriots, Qin and Tang, 15-1, 15-8 in the finals of the 1997 World Championships held in Glasgow. At the following edition of World Championships in Copenhagen, Gu and Ge easily defeated Ra Kyung Min and Chung Jae Hee of Korea 15-4, 15-5 to win their second title.
Gu and Ge entered the 2000 Olympics as the dominant 1st seeds. Out of their 4 matches, only Gao Ling and Qin Yiyuan in the semi-final round managed to secure a double-digit score of 12 points in their second game. Overall, Gu and Ge scored 120 points to their opponents’ 45 points. In the final against Huang Nanyan and Yang Wei, Gu and Ge awarded their compatriots the same 5-15, 5-15 score that they gave the Korean silver medalists at the 1996 Olympics.
Reflecting upon her Olympic results, Gu later said that their gold medal in 1996 was relatively harder to achieve because the Korean women had been the favourites to win the Olympics title.
After Sydney, Ge retired from competitive badminton. Gu and Ge had perfect chemistry as badminton partners but they were not close friends off the court. Gu wanted to keep competing after Sydney but she was unable to find a new partner and decided to retire herself.
Reflecting on her career, Gu mentioned in 2010 that “My partnership with Ge Fei lasted for 16 years but we were two people with completely different personalities. My career in Women’s Doubles was almost perfect: Ge Fei and I took two Olympic gold medals and created myths of victories. Our loss at the 2000 Japan Open is this not regrettable. Since we had so much glory and achievements, imperfections like that one will only highlight and give more value to the success we had.”
After fulfilling her promise to win the Olympic gold medal a second time, Gu went back to visit the factory where her father worked. The factory was closed on the day of the Women’s Doubles final so that the workers could cheer on Gu from home. When her car pulled up to the factory, the factory workers welcomed her with firecrackers and heartfelt applause. The factory workers had also kept their side of the promise and the factory made 100,000,000 RMB profit which surpassed the total profit of the last 40 years. Everyone felt deep gratitude towards Gu and her father and showed their appreciation by awarding Gu with a 200,000 RMB prize. Gu graciously accepted the prize and rededicated the money towards inventing more products for the company.
Gu and Ge made an appearance at the 9th National Games in 2001 to represent Jiangsu and defend their title from the previous National Games. However, the legendary pair lost in the Women’s Doubles to Yang Wei and Zhang Jiewen. On the podium. Ge apologized to Gu for not playing well. Gu Jun graciously replied, “as long as we live well in the future, it’s all good.”
Gu was awarded the National Sports Medal of Honour by the State Physical Culture and Sports Commission in 2001.
In 2006, Gu give birth to a daughter on Christmas Day. In an interview, Gu laughingly called her daughter "her Christmas gift." When asked about her aspirations for her daughter, Gu showed great wisdom in saying, "whatever she does, I just hope she is happy. I will not give her too much pressure, because in the future, the society will exert great pressure on her when she grows up."
Gu now plays golf in her spare time and enjoys hot yoga.
Gu Jun was inducted in the BWF Hall of Game in 2008 for her achievements in badminton.
INDIVIDUAL AWARDS (in order by year)
2001 – National Sports Medal of Honor
2008 – BWF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
1995 World Championships Official Programme
1997 Swiss Open Official Programme
1997 World Championships Official Programme
1999 World Championships Official Programme
1998 All England Official Programme
1999 All England Official Programme
Badminton Handbook (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
Handbuch Badminton (Bernd-Volker Brahms)
Histoire du badminton (Jean-Yves Guillain)
International Badminton … the first 75 years (BWF)
World Badminton (Magazine)
-- By Yves Lacroix