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The delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games finally took place last summer and proved worth the wait, with the competition the undoubted highlight of the badminton season.

Six English players made up Team GB’s overall squad of seven heading out to the land of the rising sun, with Ben Lane, Sean Vendy, Toby Penty, Chloe Birch, Lauren Smith and 2016 bronze medallist Marcus Ellis all on the plane to Japan.

With Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour completing the squad in the women’s singles, hopes were high for another strong performance from the team and maybe even a medal as previously secured at Rio five years earlier.

It was the perfect start in the mixed doubles with Ellis and Smith on top form from the first serve at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza.

The pair got past France’s Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue, 21-18, 21-17, before a dominant 21-13, 21-19 win over Canadian pair Josephine Wu and Joshua Hurlburt-Yu booked their place in the quarter-finals.

After the victory, Ellis said: “Of course we were expected to win, we expected ourselves to win but it’s very rare that you play against a pair in these big tournaments that you haven’t played before, so for us it was something new.

“They play in a way that maybe we’ve not played against before so there is definitely something to take away from the match, something to learn from.”

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That meant the final group match against tricky opponents from Thailand, former junior world champion Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai, would decide who topped the group.

Smith and Ellis took a superb 21-17, 21-19 win, meaning they moved into the knockouts without even dropping a game.

It was a similar story for Toby Penty early on in the men’s singles.

The Walton-on-Thames shuttler flew through Group K, claiming a notable scalp along the way by knocking out world bronze medallist and 14th seed Kantaphon Wangcharoen of Thailand.

Penty won the group decider 21-19, 21-12, to top the group and set-up a meeting with 2019 World Championship silver medallist Denmark’s Anders Antonsen, in the next round.

It was a tougher time for Ben Lane and Sean Vendy in the men’s doubles.

The duo were placed in a high-quality Group A – rightly dubbed ‘the group of death’ – which saw them eliminated after three defeats in three matches.

However, the young pair did put up a notable fight against some of the best pairs in the world, including eventual gold medallists Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin from Chinese Taipei.

It was an important step in their development and both will hope their Tokyo experience stands them in good stead as they enter the Paris cycle.

Chloe Birch and Smith also faced high quality opposition at the group stage in the women’s doubles event.

The English duo went down 21-13, 21-14 against Japanese top seeds Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota in their opening match and were unable to recover.

They also weren’t able to leave Tokyo with a victory but Smith’s journey in the Japanese capital wasn’t over yet and she was soon preparing for a mixed doubles quarter-final against Hong Kong pair Tang Chun Man and Tse Ying Suet.

Unfortunately, despite leading at one point in the second set, it wasn’t quite to be as Smith and Ellis succumbed to a 21-13, 21-18 defeat which ended their hopes of a medal.

“It was definitely an opportunity,” a disappointed Smith said afterwards. “We know we can beat them, we did last time but we also know they’re a very good pair.”

Ellis, a bronze medallist in the men’s doubles five years earlier, added: “When we look back, I think we’ll be able to say that we had some very good performances.

“But I didn’t come here to lose in the quarter-finals. I’m not happy with losing at this stage.”

In the women’s singles, Kirsty Gilmour fell at the group stage, after a tough draw put her up against Japan’s fourth seed Akane Yamaguchi in the deciding match.

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The 27-year-old was beaten 21-9, 21-18 but even making the Games at all was a remarkable effort considering she had been on crutches on months earlier after suffering a foot injury.

Back in the men’s tournament, Penty’s hopes of a medal were ended by an impressive Antonsen, the third seed.

The Dane just had too much quality on the day, despite Penty showing plenty of his trademark fighting spirit, and prevailed 21-10, 21-15.

“There’s a bit of frustration,” Penty said. “I felt I was in there maybe more than the scoreline suggested.

“He is just a very good match player. He plays the situation so well and I felt that was a big difference today, when he needed to up his game he could.”

That ended Team GB’s interest, Ellis and Smith having departed the day before in the mixed doubles.

It wasn’t Antonsen who eventually took the gold medal but his fellow countryman and world number one Viktor Axelsen.

The 27-year-old beat Chen Long from China 21-15, 21-12, in the final, to upgrade the bronze he won in Rio back in 2016.

World number three Chen Yu Fei took the title in the women’s singles, while Indonesian’s Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu won the women’s doubles gold.

Also on finals day, Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin won the men’s doubles gold, with Chinese pair Wang Yilju and Huang Dongping triumphing in the mixed doubles.

There may have been no medals this time around but there were some excellent performances from the Team GB squad, who can take valuable experience from playing at an Olympics in such unique circumstances.

Roll on Paris 2024!

For more reaction from Tokyo, check out our Tokyo Diaries with Toby Penty and Julian Robertson.

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