Four World Championships crowns and an Olympic gold stand out in a glittering treasure chest that Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng accumulated in the course of an epic career. Their unparalleled achievements, both in individual and team events, saw them inducted into BWF’s Hall of Fame.
Fu, of course, would go on to win a second Olympic gold with Zhang Nan, but it was with Cai that his name will be chiefly associated with.
China’s men’s team for a decade and more from the early 2000s sported an unconquerable halo. This was due to the rich talent they sported in their ranks, some of whom went on to become legends in their own right. Cai and Fu were a vital part of the team.
Cai and Fu shot up the ranks quickly from 2003 onwards. China hadn’t fared particularly well in the previous decade in men’s doubles against strong Indonesian, Korean and Danish opposition, and it was to Cai and Fu’s credit that they stepped in to fill the breach. Within a couple of years they were already claiming the big titles – the All England was theirs in 2005 – and the following year they had their first World Championships.
What made the duo so hard to beat was their ability to play fearless attacking badminton at great pace even under extreme pressure – Cai’s quickness and clever game was aided by Fu’s sledgehammer hits from the back, and there was never an inch given. Their arrival on the scene coincided with a new style of doubles in the 21×3 scoring system, defined by flurries of fast, flat exchanges with no room for error. Cai and Fu thrived despite facing opponents of the class of Hendra Setiawan, Markis Kido, Lee Yong Dae, Chung Jae Sung, Kien Keat Koo, Tan Boon Heong, Mathias Boe, Carsten Mogensen and others.
The World Championships 2009 final against Lee Yong Dae and Chung Jae Sung showcased why Cai and Fu were among the all-time greats – in a fiercely-fought battle, full of lightning-quick rallies and thunderous smashes from either side, Cai and Fu prevailed 21-18 16-21 28-26 in 75 minutes.
In 2010 Cai and Fu became the first men’s doubles pair to win three world titles; a year later, they had their fourth.
One of their few disappointments had been the loss in the Olympics 2008 final to Markis Kido and Hendra Setiawan on home soil, as they fell before Kido’s relentless energy and Setiawan’s front-court brilliance. However, they made amends four years later, capturing the coveted title in London 2012. By then, they had been China’s trump cards in five successive Thomas Cup triumphs and six Sudirman Cup victories.
The duo split up in 2014 to pair up with younger partners, and Cai did win another Superseries title (with Lu Kai) in 2014, while Fu continue to blaze a trail with Zhang Nan, and the partnership was to achieve its highlight at the Rio Olympics, where they overcame two match points in the final. Fu would retire with two Olympic gold and a silver from three straight finals, besides his four world championships and several other titles with his long-time partner Cai Yun.
Gold: London 2012; Silver: Beijing 2008
Gold: 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011; Bronze: 2003, 2013
Gold: 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012
Gold: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015
Gold: 2005 (Yiyang)
Gold (team): 2006 (Doha), 2010 (Guangzhou)
Winners: 2005, 2009