Olympics-Badminton-Danes could give Asian shuttlers a run for their golds

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Badminton - Men's Singles - Group Stage
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By Richa Naidu

TOKYO (Reuters) - Denmark has not won a badminton gold medal since Poul-Erik Høyer Larsen beat China's Dong Jiong at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics but that could be about to change in Tokyo.

With 11 players - including Viktor Axelsen and Anders Antonsen - ranked in the top 20, Denmark has never had a better shot at medaling at the Games in a sport dominated by Asian countries.

Badminton, which traces its roots back to ancient Greece, India and China, was not introduced in Denmark until the 1920s but has become one of the country's most beloved sports.

The Danes have won only eight of the 106 Olympic medals available from 1992 to 2016, while Asian athletes account for 92, but they have high hopes this year, particularly in men's singles where Axelsen and Antonsen rank just below number one Kento Momota of Japan.

"Antonsen has got a heck of a chance. I think he's a solid player," Steve Kearney, director of USA Para-Badminton, said. "I wouldn't say favourite but he's a solid player."

Axelsen, who won a bronze medal at Rio, also praised Antonsen, saying he is really lucky to be able to practice with him.

"We have a strong tradition, we have many Danish clubs, a really healthy club system et cetera," Axelsen said. "We have a lot of good former players who are sort of coming into the herd and helping all the young players - and that's a big, big advantage."

Danish coaches are also in high demand, with India's Chirag Shetty and Satwiksairaj Rankireddy hiring former Olympic silver medallist Mathias Boe as their new coach in January.

(Reporting by Richa Naidu;Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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