A bizarre shuttlecock scandal at the London Olympics put badminton front and centre for a few days last summer. Li and her partner became Canadian darlings after making a surprise semifinal appearance when four teams were expelled for dropping their matches on purpose.
Li's sport was back in the news Tuesday in the buildup to another multi-sport games — this time one much closer to home. She was on hand at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Markham Pan Am and Parapan Am Centre, which will host badminton and other sports during the 2015 Toronto Games.
In London, Li and Alex Bruce finished fourth after their unlikely run to the medal round. Eight players from China, South Korea and Indonesia were expelled — including world champions Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang — in what became one of the biggest stories of the Games.
Li said the scandal helped give badminton some much-needed attention in sports pages across the country.
"We took advantage of that and we put Canada on the map for badminton in the Olympics," she said. "So I think that was really good for us. Obviously we're not proud of what they did and it probably wasn't very good for the sport in Asia.
"But I think in Canada it helped out a lot."
The Canadian duo thought their Olympic run was over after finishing last in their pool. Instead, Li and Bruce — who went by the moniker Bruce Li at the Games — returned to the draw and made it to the bronze-medal game before losing to a Russian duo.
The loss ended a remarkable run for the Canadians, who still made history by being in the medal round. No Canadian has ever won an Olympic badminton medal or even made the semifinals.
The unexpected developments generated plenty of ink for badminton, a racket sport that is considered a minnow in the sporting hierarchy in this country.
"Everybody here in Canada was supporting Bruce Li," Li said. "On TV, in the newspapers and everything. It really hit me. I think that was probably one of the high moments in my pro career."
Another top highlight came last year at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Li beat fellow Canadian Joycelyn Ko in the women's singles final and teamed with Bruce to win doubles gold. Li, a 20-year-old Markham native, is hoping to defend her titles in three years time.
"This is actually going to be the first time that I've ever played an international tournament on my home turf," she said. "I'm really excited to see how it's going to go.
"I think it's going to be so beneficial to me knowing that my whole community is going to be behind me and watch me compete in this awesome facility."
The US$78.5-million venue will also host water polo and table tennis during the Games in July 2015, along with table tennis matches during the Parapan Am Games the following month.
Li is still regularly asked about the London scandal. The four teams were disqualified after trying to lose matches in order to receive a more favourable placing in the playoffs.
Li was on hand for the action at Wembley Arena. She couldn't believe that players were repeatedly serving into the net and making unnecessary errors.
"I have never seen it so obvious," Li said. "Never."
On Tuesday, she wore her red 2012 Olympic jacket on a chilly morning north of Toronto. The sound of construction vehicles could be heard working on the large plot of land close to the groundbreaking location.
Once completed, the 160,000-square foot facility will feature a triple gymnasium and a 10-lane, 50-metre Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Li was joined at the ceremony by Bal Gosal, Canada's minister of state for sport, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, TO2015 chief executive officer Ian Troop and others.
"It's great to get this one started and have it ready for the summer of '14," Troop said.
Construction started last January on the athletes' village near the Toronto waterfront and TO2015 organizers broke ground last month on the Pan Am and Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House in west Toronto.
The venue clusters and sport program for the Games was announced last week. Troop said plans are moving along nicely.
"We're right on track, both in terms of budget and time," he said.