Korean women's badminton doubles team player Baek Ha-na, left, and Lee So-hee, hold up their gold medals from the All England Open at Incheon International Airport, March 19. Yonhap

In the bronze medal match of the women’s doubles in badminton at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the Korean team of Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong defeated a team from the same country, Lee So-hee and Shin Seung-chan. The celebration for the winners was understandably muted, with Kim in particular overcome with emotions afterward after denying her longtime teammates a medal.

Lee could have a chance at revenge in Paris this summer, but with a new partner by her side in Baek Hana. Kim and Kong are still together, but Lee and Baek are considered a stronger medal contender now. They check in at No. 2 in the world rankings, five spots ahead of Kim-Kong.

The Lee-Baek tandem has won five of its six meetings against the Kim-Kong team, most recently beating them in three sets in the quarterfinals of the Indonesia Open on June 7. Lee and Baek went on to win their second straight Indonesian title.

As they were preparing for their first Olympics together, Lee and Baek said Wednesday they did not rule out the possibility of another all-Korean duel.

“If we do end up facing each other, I’d rather do that in the final,” Lee, 30, said in a media scrum during an opening training session at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, some 85 kilometers southeast of Seoul. “And if that does happen, I’d be really excited. And even though we play for the same country, I don’t think either of our teams will back down from each other. It should be a fun match.”

Baek, 23, said a Korea vs. Korea matchup would be “the toughest battle” for her team.

“Regardless of our opponents, I have to make sure I will stay out of my own way,” Baek with a smile. “I can’t afford to think too much out there.”

Baek, who is about to make her Olympic debut, said she has been trying to heed Lee’s advice that she has to trust in the process and let the results take care of themselves.

“I think it’s easier said than done,” Baek added. “But it’s not for lack of effort on my part.”

Lee, who is gearing up for her third Olympics, said her chemistry with Baek has hardly been better. At the 2023 Asian Games, less than two 추천 years into their partnership, Lee and Baek combined to win the women’s doubles silver medal, and also helped Korea to the women’s team gold medal by defeating the top-ranked team from China, Chen Qingchen and Jia Yifan.

“I didn’t think we would even qualify for the Asian Games then, and luckily, we even won a couple of medals,” Lee said. “When we first got together, our focus was on the Paris Olympics. And our preparation has been going pretty well, and I have high expectations.”

After the Asian Games, Lee and Baek won the prestigious All England Open title in March and the Asian championships gold medal in April, becoming the first Korean women’s doubles team to do so in 19 years.

In the women’s doubles, the top-10 teams in the world rankings are all from Asia. In addition to the two Korean tandems, there are three Chinese teams, three Japanese teams, one Thai team and one Indonesian tandem. Lee said success at the Asian Games could translate to Olympic glory.

“Asia is pretty strong in badminton, and winning medals at the Asian Games did give us some hope for the Olympics,” Lee said. “But anyone is capable of winning a medal at the Olympics. We know we will have our chance to win a medal and we just have to keep working toward that.”

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