The media in Japan was right to hype the Japanese Women’s Badminton team.
There were two pairs… one pair, the Satoko Suetsuna-Miyuki Maeda pair was ranked 8th in the world going into the Olympics. The other pair, Kumiko Ogura-Reiko Shiota, were ranked 7th and had won the bronze medal at world championships in Kuala Lumpur.
At a glance, you’d naturally expect the “Ogu-Shio” pair to be your best hope for a medal, however the “Sue-Mae” pair is also promising. Two pairs ranked 7th and 8th in the world is worth a little media coverage… for BOTH pairs.
One pair was covered much more extensively than another despite how closely they were ranked. The picture above shows Ogu-Shio on a magazine cover. The picture below shows Sue-Mae.
The news media followed the top pair so extensively that when Ogu-Shio were out of the tournament and Sue-Mae were still going strong, they had no pre-Olympics training videos or interviews to give viewers some more background about the players.
The Japanese media here seemed like it was trying to make heroes, but chose who it would follow so poorly that they were forced to race to do research about some of the athletes that won medals. This particular case was completely based on the looks, and I guess marketability of Ogu-Shio based on their looks, however if the media knew people a little better they would know that a hardworking dedicated pair like Sue-Mae would be popular with viewers.
The popularity of Sue-Mae grew without help from the media, especially after Shiota announced that she would like to look for a job on tv and retire from Badminton. (She later recanted and reaffirmed her dedication to Badminton after backlash on the internet.)
Other teams were overlooked, (the poor overachieving men’s table tennis team… no medal, but an amazing run) but this was a blatant case of the media embarrassing itself.
NOVEMBER 2008 UPDATE:
Sadly the Rieko Shiota – Kumiko Ogura pair has broken up. They will be competing with different partners in the future, but left open the possibility that they will play together again someday in the future (but I wouldn’t get your hopes up).