Tian Bingyi was born on July 30, 1963, in Wuhan, Hubei, China.
At the age of nine years old, Tian’s elementary school teacher and coach, Chen Fucheng, noticed Tian’s promising talent and selected him for specialized training. Tian trained with Coach Chen every afternoon. As the school had few facilities, they were in very high demand. Coach Chen demanded punctuality from his players in order to make full use of the limited training time.
This early discipline had a great impact on the young Tian. He later said, "(Chen was) not only my badminton but my life coach as well. That period had a great impact on my life. Because of him, I was able to endure hardship of the national team.”
After graduating from Coach Chen’s training, Tian entered the amateur sports school of Wuhan Gymnasium at eleven years old. In 1976, the 13-year-old Tian joined the Wuchang Stadium Amateur Sports School Badminton Training Class and trained in Yuemachang Middle School during the day. Tian was invited into the Hubei provincial badminton team two years later. Tian received the salary of 37.5 yuan per month from the Hunan provincial team. He gave his salary to his mother when he returned home on the weekend.
In 1980, Tian won the National Junior Championships with Yang Kesen. In the fall of 1981, Tian moved to Beijing to start training with the Chinese National Team. He was officially invited to be a part of the National Team two years later when he was twenty years old.
China made its first appearance after rejoining the World Badminton Federation at the 1982 All England. The 1980 titleholder, Prakash Padukone of India, brushed tian aside with a score of 15-6 15-1, in the Round of 16. He had much better results in the Mixed Doubles with Guan Weizhen. They had smooth sailing until the semi-final where they bowed out against eventual winners, Martin Dew and Gillian Gilks, 6-15 8-15.
At the 1983 All England, unseeded Tian breezed through the semi-final round. He eliminated Icuk Sugiarto of Indonesia 15-8, 15-11 in the Round of 32. Sugiarto would go on to become the 1983 Men’s Singles World Champion in two months’ time. Tian encountered Morten Frost in the semi-finals and was stopped with the scores of 9-15, 13-15. Frost was the eventual winner of that year’s All England.
Despite promising results in singles, it was in Men’s Doubles that Tian truly flourished. Tian shared a dorm with Li Yongbo who was a year older. Li was a typical extrovert with loud and bold mannerisms while Tian was an introvert but the two men got along very well. “After an accidental team practice, we both felt that we matched in doubles. It seemed so natural,” Tian said in an interview but at that time, Tian and Li already had existing partnerships. Then Tian’s former partner was injured which opened up an opportunity to switch partners. After a national competition in Shanghai, Tian and Li decided to write a letter to the national team coach, Hou Jiachang, complaining about their partnerships. Two weeks after they returned to Beijing, Coach Hou pulled them aside and confirmed that they were now partners.
Elated with their new partnership, the duo first drew attention when they reached the finals of the 1984 World Cup. They lost to Liem Swie King and Hariamanto Kartono 8-15, 1-15 and went home with the silver medal.
The pair would only have to wait until the next year before achieving their first international title. Tian and Li defeated the mighty Sidek brothers, Jalani and Razif, 17-14, 15-8, at the 1985 Danish Open to earn their first title. In June, they attended the 1985 World Championships and found themselves running the gauntlet as all of their last three matches of the tournament went to three games. They survived the quarterfinal and the semi-final but dropped their last marathon match and title of World Champions to Park Joo Bong and Kim Moon Soo of Korea 15-7, 7-15, 9-15.
After losing in the final of the 1985 World Championships, Tian visited a master fortune-teller to divine his future. The master predicted that Tian would be stuck as a silver medalist at the World Championships many times due to his name. His name sounded like “missing by a little.” To dispel such bad fortune, the master fortune-teller suggested that Tian be renamed as “Tian Bingyi.”
Tian and Li earned their second title in September at the 1985 Malaysian Masters after defeating the Sidek brothers on their Malaysian home soil.
At the 1986 Asian Games, the mighty Kim and Park of Korea rendered Tian and Li helpless. The Korean pair personally crushed the Chinese’s dream of gold in both of the finals for the Men’s Team Event and the Individual Event. The only title that Tian and Li won in 1986 was at the Danish Open, their second consecutive at the event. Tian and Li would reign on Danish soil for five years from 1985-1990.
The 1986 Thomas Cup was also the first of the three successful Thomas Cup campaigns that Tian and Li were involved in. Their victories in Men’s Doubles were instrumental in China’s three consecutive wins in 1986, 1988 and 1990.
The following year of 1987 would be a golden year of firsts for the Chinese pair. They won their first of three All England crowns (1987, 1988, 1991) and their first World Championships title. Beijing hosted the 1987 World Championships in which Tian and Li toppled the Sidek brothers, 15-2, 8-15, 15-9 to the delight of a packed stadium. In an interview, Tian attributed his World Championship victory to the good fortune brought by his name change.
Tian and Li represented China at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul where badminton was a demonstration sport. The event was played in front of a packed stadium of 5000 people in the Seoul University Gymnasium, which was also the venue for Table Tennis. There were only three entries in Men’s Doubles and the Chinese pair had a bye so they only played one match. They defeated Lee Sang Bok and Lee Jwang Jin of Korea, 15-11, 15-7. In addition to that event, in 1988, they won more titles at the All England, World Cup, Danish Open, Japan Open, Malaysia Open, and Thailand Open.
Tian repeated their feat the following year at the 1989 World Championships in Jakarta. They breezed through the final against compatriots, Chen Hongyong and Chen Kang, 15-3, 15-12. Tian and Li were the first pair to won a second consecutive World Championships title. To this day, only two pairs have successfully defended their World Championships title. Twenty-one years have passed before another pair (Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng of China) managed to replicate Tian and Li’s feat at the World Championships.
Tian and Li redeemed themselves at the 1990 Asian Games by defeating Kim and Park in the finals of the Individual Event. This very same Korean pair denied them the crown four years earlier, at the 1986 Games. Tian and Li doubled the revenge by snatching away the gold medal from the Koreans in the Team Event as well.
Despite their success at the Asian Games, Tian and Li were unable to help their team advance to the finals at the 1991 Sudirman Cup. They lost their first doubles in the 2-3 semi-final tie defeat to Korea.
The entry of badminton at the Olympic Games may have come too late for the Chinese pair. They were optimistic for the 1992 Olympics despite signs of slowing down in the last few months prior to the Olympics. Tian and Li had lost an important game at the 1992 Thomas Cup in May, which triggered a 2-3 semi-final loss. Tian and Li were already 29 and 30 years old respectively. Both players decided that the Olympic Games would be their last event together.
Tian and Li had a hard time at the Olympics. They survived three game battles in each of their first three rounds to advance to the semi-final stage. Li was suffering from an injury to his left leg and was not able to give his best performance. Tian and Li fell in the semi-finals to Eddy Hartono and Rudy Gunawan of Indonesia 9-15 8-15. Despite their bronze medal, Tian later deemed their loss at the Olympics as the greatest deception of his career. After the Olympics, Tian and Li drank ten alcohol-free beers to commemorate their decade-long partnership.
This was not the end of their partnership. After his retirement from competitive play, Tian decided to follow Li and join the coaching staff of the national team. Li who was now the head coach of the national team appointed his ex-partner to the development of Women’s Doubles. As China failed to win a single gold medal at the 1992 Olympics, this responsibility was taken very seriously. For the next Olympics, Tian and Li identified Ge Fei and Gu Jun at the 1993 Chinese National Games as likely contenders for the gold medal. Tian and Li personally sparred against Ge and Gu to make them even stronger and the sparring paid off. Tian even ran with the women and pushed them by insisting that they keep up with him.
Ge and Gu were invincible on court but had very contrasting personalities. Unlike Tian and Li, they barely talked to each other off the court. Tian recalls an incident during training that happened right before the 1996 All England. Ge and Gu got into a very heated argument on the court. Ge threw her racket and said that she would never play badminton again. At that time, there were only four more months until the 1996 Atlanta Games. Tian had to step out of his introvert and cajole Ge into putting aside her angry. After an hour and a half later, Tian managed to convince Ge to keep going with the partnership. They ended up winning the 1996 All England and fulfilled Tian’s Olympic dream with back-to-back gold medals at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics Games. Their gold medal at the 1996 Olympics was China’s first in badminton.
After the 1996 Olympics, Tian felt that it was too shaky to rely on just Ge and Gu so he looked for more players to form doubles pairs. Tian was promoted to Deputy Head Coach of the Chinese national team in 1997.
When asked about his coaching career, Tian unexpectedly said that he would prefer to be an athlete. He said that it was extremely tiring to deal with female athletes as he cannot yell at them and have to understand their feelings. Additionally, he is very careful to be fair during training because female players notice everything. When they feel that he is being unfair, they keep their anger inside and do not say anything.
Tian rarely loses his temper but absolutely hates players throwing their rackets. He believes that the racket is the equivalent of a soldier’s gun in a war and should be treated with respect.
As China’s Women’s Doubles has won the Olympic gold medal for as long as he was in charge of the team, Tian said that he almost had a mental breakdown before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Huang Sui’s father was ill and she took leave from the team to take care of him. Halfway through the Olympics track, Du Jing had health problems and needed surgery. Zhang Jiewen was also not playing well so Tian put Yang Wei with Zhao Tingting. When Zhang started playing again, Tian put the original partners back together. First seeds, Zhang and Yang, crashed in the quarterfinals but Tian’s foresight to cultivate more doubles pairs came into play. His other pairs of Du Jing and Yu Yang won the gold medal and Zhang Yawen and Wei Yili ended up with the bronze medal.
Li was Tian’s wingman in his personal life as well. In an interview, Tian credits Li for setting him up with his future wife, Zhou Jihong, winner of the gold medal at the 10-meter diving event at the 1984 Olympic Games. Li invited both of them to a Mid-Autumn Festival dinner in a hotel in 1982. Li said many nice things about his friend to Zhou before the dinner and arranged Tian and Zhou to be seated together. The master tactician’s strategy paid off and Tian and Zhou started dating. Tian and Zhou married in 1993 and had a son named Tian Yu.
Li also had a son named Li Gen and both fathers pushed to have their sons play together but Tian Yu preferred to study. Both children inherited the same contrasting personalities as their respective dads.
Changes made within the Chinese National Team in 2017 prompted Li’s departure from the team. Tian stepped down as well and transitioned into a consultant for the Chinese team along with fellow coach, Zheng Bo.
As Tian and Li spent many years together, they had many common interests such as playing golf and driving sport utility vehicles. Li drives a BMW X5 while Tian drives a Porsche Cayenne. During their leisure time, they enjoy drinking beer and having frank talks with their friends.
Tian Bingyi was inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame in 2011.
2011 – BWF Hall of Fame
Sports Medal of Honor by the State Sports Commission
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
1934-1994…..Sixty years of the IBF
1992 Thomas/Uber Cup Finals Official Programme
Apa & Siapa
Badminton Magazine (China)
Badminton World Federation Statutes 2007/2008
International Badminton – the first 75 years
International Badminton Federation – Statutes 1993
-- By Yves Lacroix