With the Tokyo Olympics qualification resuming at the Swiss Open on the 2nd March, here is a look at some of the main contenders across all disciplines.
The BWF rankings were frozen from March 2020 until just last week amidst the global pandemic, resulting in an elongated Olympic qualification period from April 29, 2019 until April 25, 2021.
Remember, it is usually the case that only two representatives from each country can attend.
After nearly a year out, Kento Momota would have been devastated to have tested positive for Covid-19 just as action returned. Having missed all three Thailand tournaments in January, he will be desperate to make up for lost time in the coming weeks.
As the host nation, Japan is entitled to more than two players if they achieve the qualifying regulations, giving extra motivation for currently 14th and 15th ranked Kanta Tsuneyama and Kenta Nishimoto to join Momota in Tokyo.
The world number one leads Viktor Axelsen as the two current best players within the men’s singles.
A fellow Dane, Anders Antonsen is ranked third, meaning the highly ranked Rasmus Gemke and Hans-Kristian Vittinghus will likely feel aggrieved to miss out on the Danish Olympic team.
Reigning Olympic champion Chen Long has slipped to number six in the BWF rankings, Shi Yuqi is set to beat the ageing Lin Dan to China’s second men’s singles spot.
In Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi, Japan have two genuine home contenders for the Women’s Singles crown. Okuhara’s Rio semi-finalist conqueror PV Sindhu should comfortably be joined by Saina Nehwal as the two Indian representatives - no other Indian is currently in the top 50 of the women’s singles rankings.
Despite losing to Tai Tzu Ying in the BWF World Tour Finals Final, Olympic Champion Carolina Marin’s run to the final saw her climb two spaces, above the two Japanese shuttlers to now sit third in the rankings.
Ying still tops the rankings and is yet to add an Olympic medal to her trophy cabinet, surely this year will be her best chance yet?
Crowd favourites Marcus Gideon and Kevin Sukamuljo are also yet to win an Olympic medal, and after dominating the men’s doubles game since Rio, it would be brave to bet past them cruising right through to Tokyo and perhaps the finest title in the game.
It’s an Indonesian one-two atop the men’s doubles rankings currently as Hendra Setiawan and Mohammad Ahsan sit second. Setiawan won Olympic gold in Beijing alongside former partner Markis Kido.
Hiroyuki Endo and Yuta Watanabe will still be seen as great hopes for the home faithful, although Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoda currently sit one place above them and there are five other Japanese pairs currently in the world’s top 50.
Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota went through a period of becoming habitual bridesmaids-including three World Championships silver medals in a row. The current top ranked pair should cruise through qualifying and provide a serious gold medal challenge in front of a home crowd.
Four South Korean pairs lie in the top 11. Look out for Kim So Yeong and Kong Hee Yong who won four titles in their first year together in 2019, so really are still a relatively new pair at the top of the women’s doubles game.
2017 World Champions Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan of China are the other main pair to watch out for.
Another supreme Chinese double act are 2018/19 World Champion pair Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong. Despite being number one for what seems like years, they have never won an Olympic medal, yet still standing at the top the rankings in qualification now, could this be their year?
Sapsiree Taerattanachai and Dechapol Puavaranukroh made history last month though, winning a hat-trick of Super 1000 titles in three weeks. All in their home country of Thailand, they defeated sixth-ranked South Koreans Seo Seung-Jae and Chae Yu-Jung in the BWF World Tour Finals to rise to second in the current BWF rankings.
The host nation’s best hopes in this format come through Arisa Higashino and Yuta Watanabe who won World Championship bronze in Basel in 2019 and are currently ranked sixth.