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Canada's Bruce, Li Finish Unlikely Run To Medal Round With A Fourth-Place Finish

08/04/2012 06:57 EDT | Updated 10/04/2012 05:12 EDT
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LONDON - Their coach had told them over and over that anything can happen at the Olympic Games.

Alex Bruce and Michelle Li proved their coach right as the two little-known Canadians found themselves battling for the country's first Olympic badminton medal in one of the most unlikely stories of the London Games.

The Toronto players capped their roller-coaster ride to the medal round with a fourth-place finish Saturday, beaten 21-9, 21-10 by Russians Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova in Saturday's bronze-medal match to end their part in one of the most scandalous tales of the Games.

"It would impossible to replicate that," said coach Ram Nayyar. "They played in medal rounds at the Olympics, so you're one of eight people or four pairs from around the world to do what you're doing. That's fantastic."

Later Saturday, China's Tian Qing and Zhao Yunlei defeated Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa of Japan 21-10, 25-23 on their fourth match point to win gold.

The Canadians made history just by being in the medal round as no Canadian has ever even made the semifinals.

The 22-year-old Bruce and 20-year-old Li — "Bruce Li" as the duo has come to be known in London — believed their Olympics were over earlier this week when they were eliminated after finishing last in their pool losing by a combined score of 126-52.

But in an Olympic re-write neither could have seen coming, they were reinstated a day later when four teams were expelled for purposefully losing their matches.

"Even when we were out of the tournament after the pool play it was still such an extraordinary experience, and then being pulled back in. . . I don't know how many times that's happened in the Olympics but it was really surreal," Bruce said. "I don't think it's even really sunk in for me."

The pair had spent most of the previous day out with their families sightseeing in London. They were given just two hours notice before they were back on the court for Part 2 of their two-part story.

"It was hard to know what to feel: should we feel guilty for being given this chance?" Bruce said. "But after about 30 seconds we were like 'wait a second, we get another match. What are we doing? Let's do it, let's go for it.'"

That breathed new life into the Canadians, who cruised by an Australian pair in the semis — their only victory. They gave the No. 4 seeded Japanese team a good game before eventually falling in three sets in the semis, setting up the bronze medal match.

"It's definitely been the craziest roller-coaster, it's high and low, and high and low," Li said. "We started off low and we went to our high and it was the best point of our lives. And today was part of our low. It's just been crazy, all the emotions."

The young players have become two of Canada's darlings of these Games — relatively unknown athletes who only a couple of years ago were battling each other in Ontario university competition, Bruce for Western University, Li for the Toronto Varsity Blues.

The twosome, dressed in yellow, had the crowd on their side Saturday at Wembley Arena. "Kung Fu Fighting" blared over the loudspeakers as the two took the court. Chants of "Bruce Li," roared around the venue.

Bruce and Li said they were overwhelmed by the support they've received, but instituted a "media blackout" Friday. With no Internet, they played cards — Monopoly Deal — at their hotel Friday night.

"Just so I could just relax and calm down," Bruce said of the blackout. "I can't wait to check my email and check Twitter and Facebook and see what everyone says. I hope they're still supporting us even though we lost today."

Li believes the pressure was a bit too much Saturday morning against a faster, stronger Russian duo.

"We didn't perform like we wanted to, we went in with the support and the confidence but I guess we couldn't really take the pressure," Li said.

"All the hype and stuff in Canada, we know everybody is supporting us in Canada, and everybody is supporting here and we don't want to disappoint them, and today I guess we couldn't really handle it. It wasn't really good."

The Canadians, who won the Pan American Games title last fall in Mexico, could go their separate ways after these Games. They're both going back to school — Bruce is a civil engineering student, while Li is in pre-med.

"We've had such a great experience playing together for five years now and (Li) has been such an amazing partner, we get along so well on and off court," Bruce said. "So I don't think it matters from here, I think we both have a lot to accomplish in the future."

The Russians took a similar path to the medal round, reinstated after originally being eliminated. They had beaten the Canadians 21-8, 21-10 in the preliminary round.

Eight players from China, South Korea and Indonesia were expelled, including world champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang in the biggest Olympic scandal in the sport.

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