Zhang Jun was born on November 26, 1977, in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China.
At the age of 8 years old, Zhang entered Suzhou Sports Sport. Four years later, he entered the Jiangsu Provincial Sports Team. Zhang’s hard work in his early years were rewarded with an invitation to the National Team in 1996.
Results began to show the year immediately after his entry into the national team. Zhang was the silver medalist at the 1997 China Open in Men’s Doubles. In 1998, he partnered Zhang Wei to win his first international title at the Swiss Open and the silver medal at the Asian Championships. He was also part of the silver medal team at the Men’s Team at the Asian Games.
At the 1997 8th Chinese National Games, Zhang made one of the most important decisions in his life. Zhang had his eye set on Wu Lei, a Jiangsu synchronized swimmer but every time that he passed her on the stairway, he was too nervous and unable to introduce himself. Enlisting the help of his fellow teammates, he finally managed to introduce himself to Wu. By the end of the competition, Zhang accomplished his goal and began dating Wu. As Zhang trained in Beijing and Wu trained in Nanjing, Zhang would take the earliest flight from Beijing to Nanjing on the weekend to see Wu. As they only had several hours to spend together before Zhang had to return to Beijing so they spent many dates in the restaurants and cafes of the Nanjing Airport.
Zhang and Zhang also won titles at the 2000 Thailand Open and 2001 China Open but it is in Mixed Doubles that Zhang Jun made history. Apart from his title at the 1997 Asian Badminton Championships with Liu Lu, Zhang won all of his international titles with the illustrious Gao Ling from 2000-2006.
With only a title from the 2000 Thailand Open, Zhang and Gao entered the 2000 Sydney Olympics as the 7th seed. Prior to his departure for Sydney, Wu gave a package of six letters to Zhang with instructions to open at specific times such as “on the airplane, at the athlete’s village, before your first match, after your first match, before your hardest match, after your hardest match.” Inside the letters, Wu had written meticulous notes on how to take care of himself while he was at the Olympics. As Zhang and Gao were set to encounter the second seeds, Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min in the quarterfinal, he was too nervous and excited to sleep the night before. He opened Wu’s letters and calmed down after reading her letters. That night, he slept very well.
The next day, Zhang and Gao showed off their astounding survival skills by eliminating second seeds, Kim Dong Moon and Ra Kyung Min, in the quarterfinals 15-11, 15-1. After his success, he frantically called Wu in Nanjing and asked her what to do now that he was out of letters. Wu told him to reread the letters and to keep up the good work.
In their semi-final round, Zhang and Gao were up against fourth seeds, Michael Søgaard and Rikke Olsen of Denmark. In a riveting 70-minute affair, the Chinese lost the first game 10-15 but won the second 15-6. The climax was at its peak when the Danes came back from a deficit of 7-14 to even the score at 14-14. After a nail-biting encounter, the Chinese finally triumphed 17-16. Their ability to navigate rough waters would be a key to their success.
"The victory is thanks to the whole team, the coaches, the officials and my teammates," Zhang said after their semi-final victory. "We'll try our best in the final." Their toughest battle was waiting ahead of them in the form of first seeds Trikus Haryanto and Minarti Timur of Indonesia. In the first game, Zhang and Gao offered no resistance to the Indonesia offensive and toppled without a fight 1-15. The Indonesians were starting to see gold with a score of 13-12 in their favor in the second game but once again the Chinese stunned everyone by snatching a victory with a score of 15-13. In the deciding game, Gao and Zhang stormed ahead with a 13-7 lead when Zhang fell victim to his nerves. The Indonesians clawed their way back to 11-13. However, the Chinese managed to secure the last pair of points needed for the gold medal thus giving birth to a reputation of being daredevils who thrived in high pressure situations. Too excited about their victory, the Chinese forgot to shake their opponents’ hands and paraded with the Chinese flag. Zhang and Gao’s victory at the 2000 Olympics was China’s first ever Olympic gold in Mixed Doubles.
Their close encounter at the Olympics would not be their last. In 2001, the Chinese won the first of their three All England titles in similar fashion after a marathon match against Søgaard and Olsen of Denmark 13–15, 15–12, 17–14.
By then, umpire Mohan Daran of Singapore must have known that he was in for a long match when Zhang Jun and Gao were to meet reigning world champions, Ra Kyung Min and Kim Dong Moon of Korea at the 2001 World Championships. It took over 90 minutes for the Chinese to beat the Koreans with the tightest of scores - 15-10, 12-15, 17-16. The Koreans got their revenge at the next World Championships by easily magicking away the World Championship title 15-7, 15-8.
Zhang and Gao continued to accumulate countless Grand Prix titles throughout their crown. Their most notable achievements include crowns at the China Open (2002, 2003), Malaysia Open (2004, 2006), and All England (2003, 2006). In the latter tournament, the Chinese performed another Houdini act and survived five match points in the second game against Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms of England to win 12–15, 17–14, 15–1.
At the 2004 Olympic Games, Zhang and Gao entered as second seeds with their Korean archrivals, Kim and Ra, as first seeds in the top half of the draw. This time, both Zhang and Wu were set to compete at the Olympics. Before his departure, Wu gave him another six letters with the same instructions as before but this time, she added a small manual of extra reading for him. Leading up to the 2004 Olympics, Wu spent a lot of time reading books and enlisting the help of sport psychologists to help Zhang stay calm and focused. The result of her hard work and love was a customized manual for Zhang. Over and over again, she wrote that he was already an Olympic gold medalist and would face a lot more pressure than four years ago. She told him to stay focused and remember that he is the best.
Zhang and Gao’s way to gold opened up when the Koreans surprisingly crashed in the quarterfinal round to the Danish pair of Jonas Rasmussen and Rikke Olsen. In turn, the Danes fell to Robertson and Emms 6-15, 12-15. In the bottom half of the draw, the hurricane of Zhang and Gao blew away all of their opponents. Their opponents of the first three rounds scored a meager total of 25 points.
In the final round against Robertson and Emms, the Chinese once again took three games to secure their title. Zhang and Gao crushed the English 15-1 in the first game but the English bounced back with a 15-12 victory in the second game. Continuing on their victorious momentum, the English were leading 11-8 in the third game but one could sense the storm brewing. Zhang and Gao blasted through their opponents with six straight points to call match point. By then, it was too late for the English to scavenge the match and the Chinese won their second consecutive Olympic title 12-15. Zhang and Gao were the only Mixed Doubles pair in Olympic history to have earned their Olympic laurels for two consecutive times.
Zhang Jun was a part of China’s three consecutive victories at the Sudirman Cup. In 1999, Zhang Jun and his partner, Yu Jinhao, had the honour of securing China’s fourth and deciding match of the final against Denmark. The pair defeated Jens Eriksen and Jesper Larsen 15-13, 15-13 for a 3-1 Chinese victory in Denmark.
After his last match with Gao at the 2006 Japan Open in October, Zhang briefly played in the newly-born Superseries circuit with Zhao Tinting in Mixed Doubles and Zheng Bo in Men’s Doubles with Zheng Bo. He competed in the China Masters in July 2007 and officially retired from international competition.
Zhang finally tied the knot with Wu on November 10, 2006 after almost 10 years of dating. Zhang had met Wu when she was 16 years old and was her first and only love. When asked who was going to cook for the family, Wu replied that it would be Zhang. When he was traveling abroad, Zhang had a reputation for bringing an electric stove to cook his own meals. Zhang wanted Wu to cook but Wu settled the matter by putting a scale next to the door. She stated that they would step on the scale every day and the one who was heavier would be in charge of cooking thus Zhang was dedicated as the cook for the family.
After his retirement in 2007, Zhang Jun became a coach to the Chinese national team. After Li Yongbo’s departure as Head Coach of the Chinese national team in November 2017, Zhang Jun was appointed as the coach of the doubles teams. Xia Xuanze took charge of the singles players.
Zhang Jun was a torch bearer during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, held in Beijing, China.
Zhang Jun was inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame in 2011.
2011 – BWF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
2005 IBF World Championships Official Programme
Badminton Magazine (China)
Badminton World Federation – Statutes 2007/2008
Histoire du badminton (Jean-Yves Guillain)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
The 30th Olympic Games Chinese Sports Delegation
World Badminton (Magazine)
-- By Yves Lacroix