Gao Ling was born in Wuhan, China on March 14, 1979. At 8 years old, she began playing badminton at her local school in Hubei province. Five years later, Ling entered the Hubei Provincial team in June 1992. By 1996, she was already representing China in junior international tournaments. Along with her partner, Yang Wei, they won the 1996 World Junior Championships in Girls’ Doubles. It was to no one’s surprise when Gao Ling entered the Chinese national team in February 1997, a mere 10 years after she started to play badminton.
In 1997, Ling finished her last year as a junior with a double crown at the 1997 Asian Junior Championships. She won Girls’ Doubles with Yang Wei and Mixed Doubles with Cheng Rui.
Ling began a partnership with Qing Yiyuan in her first year as a player on the senior international circuit. Together, the new pair won 3 international titles within their first year playing abroad. They caught the world’s attention at the 1999 French Open when they soundly defeated An Li Peng and Chor Hooi Yee of Malaysia with the scores of 15-0, 15-3 to win the title. The 1999 French Open was only their fourth tournament together.
Despite their young age, the Chinese pair continued their success and made it to the semi-finals of the 1999 World Championships on their first try. They lost to their older and more experienced compatriots and the eventual World Championships winners, Ge Fei and Gu Jun.
Women’s Doubles was not Ling’s only successful event. With just 1 title in her Mixed Doubles’ resume from the 2000 Thailand Open, Ling and her left-handed partner, Zhang Jun, took the Olympic title in Sydney in one of the most exciting Mixed Doubles events in recent history. The Chinese fought their way through the semi-final to prevail against Michael Søgaard and Rikke Olsen of Denmark with the nail-biting scores of 10-15, 15-6, 17-16. In the final, the Chinese pair once again seemed to be out of the running for the Olympic gold when they lost the first game easily to the Indonesian pair of Tri Kusharyanto & Minarti Timur with the scores of 1-15 but they came back from behind to take away the gold with the scores of 15-13 and 15-11 respectively. Ling and Jun’s gold medal was China’s first Olympic gold in Mixed Doubles.
Despite their close win, the Chinese mixed pair proved that their Olympic title was no fluke as they swept more titles into their resume in 2001. Her partnership with Zhang Jun gave her 1 of her 2 titles at the All England that year as well as a World Championships title. Her new partnership with Huang Sui in Women’s Doubles proved to be just as successful. In 2001, they won their first of 6 consecutive All England titles and a World Championship title. Her illustrious year in 2001 earned her the IBF’s Eddy Choong Player of the Year Award.
In the following years, Ling grabbed 2 more gold medals at the 2003 and 2006 World Championships as well as a flurry of titles at all the major Opens (Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Swiss, German Singapore, Macau, Thailand) including the first ever Superseries titles in Mixed Doubles at the 2007 Malaysia Open.
With her results, Ling was destined to be a record breaker. She dominated at the All England with a total of 11 titles. She held the All England title in Women’s Doubles for 6 consecutive years with Huang Sui from 2001 to 2006 and won 5 titles in Mixed Doubles titles with two different partners. She won 3 of her Mixed Doubles titles with Zhang Jun in 2001, 2003 and 2006 and the other 2 titles with Zheng Bo in 2007 and 2008.
Her domination extended to World Championships as well. She won 3 World Championships medals in Women’s Doubles (2001, 2003 & 2006) with Huang and 1 in Mixed Doubles with Zhang (2001). She holds the record for the most World Championships medals totalling at 8 in all - 4 gold, 4 silver. Ling also holds the record for the most Olympic medals with 4 in all three colors (2 gold, 1 silver & 1 bronze), making her most the successful badminton Olympian in history. For her achievement, Ling received a Guinness World Record Certificate.
Despite her impressive results, Ling ran into some disappointments during her career. She never managed to win an Olympic gold in Women’s Doubles despite her domination of the event for years. She won a bronze medal with Qin Yiyuan in 2000 and a silver medal with Huang Sui in 2004. Ling switched partners in Mixed Doubles in 2008 and paired up with Zheng Bo. Their goal of an Olympic medal on home soil was crushed by the English pair of Nathan Robertson and Gail Emms in the very first round with a 16-21, 21-16, 19-21 defeat.
On the team front, Ling was instrumental in helping China win 5 consecutive Uber Cups from 2000 to 2008 and 3 Sudirman Cups in 2001, 2005, and 2007.
Ling’s amazing anticipation at the net made her one of the best forecourt and most successful players in badminton history. She was famous not only for being a wall at the forecourt but for her smile. Whether she was on the court or on the podium, Ling was always smiling. Her love for the sport made it a joy for everyone to watch her play.
Her career of 22 years ended after she retired at the age of 30 in 2009. Ling played her last tournament representing her home province of Hubei at the China National Games in October 2009.
Reflecting upon her career, Ling however stated that she had “nothing to regret as (she has) won the titles of all major tournaments.”
In May of the same year as her retirement, Gao Ling married Wu Sheng, a graphic designer, in a grand wedding ceremony attended by all team members.
Gao Ling was inducted into the BWF Hall of Fame in 2011.
2000 – Selected as one of top ten athletes of Hubei Province
2001 – IBF Eddy Choong Player of the Year
2011 – BWF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
All England 1996 Official Programme
International Badminton – the first 75 years
Sudirman Cup 2009 Official Programme
World Badminton (Magazine)
-- By Yves Lacroix