LONDON, ENGLAND -- A bizarre Olympic journey that took Toronto badminton players Michelle Li and Alex Bruce all the way to an unexpected medal match Saturday at Wembley Arena, ended up one spot shy of the podium.
Playing the same Russian team of Valeria Sorokina and Nina Vislova that had beaten them handily in group play, the Canadian tandem didn't fare any better playing for the bronze medal, falling 21-9, 21-10 in a match that lasted only 25 minutes.
As has been the case throughout, the Canadians heard plenty of 'Bruce-Li' chants, which in turn even inspired a playing of Carl Douglas's disco classic Kung Fu Fighting during a break.
But despite the support, the Canadians looked shaky from the get-go, twice serving into the net on the way to dropping the first game in just 12 minutes, and playing only slightly better in the next against their more experienced opponents.
"We definitely didn't play our best today, compared to the semi-finals or the quarter-finals, but it's been such an amazing journey, and it just goes to show, no matter who you're up against you should keep believing in yourself and keep fighting for every point," said Bruce, 22. "We tried today and unfortunately we didn't have enough. They were too good for us, but there's so many things to take away."
Both teams were beneficiaries of a controversy here that saw four teams ejected from the competition for match-fixing, including in their group, the world champion Chinese team of Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang and the South Korean team of Jung Kyung-eun and Kim Ha-na.
When the Chinese and Koreans were stripped of their wins, the Russians moved up into top spot in the pool and the Canadians into second, despite having not actually won a game yet.
The good fortune went beyond that, however, as they also drew, in the quarter-finals, an Australia team of Leanne Choo and Renuga Veeran that had benefitted in a similar fashion in their group, and won it 21-9, 18-21, 21-18.
Bruce and Li even gave the Japanese team of Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa a challenge in the semifinal, but lost in three games, 21-12, 19-21, 21-13.
Li, who drew the number one seed in singles play and was quickly ousted there, figured her Olympics were over without a win prior to the scandal.
"When I left the tournament I was pretty low, I guess, and then all of a sudden we get this chance and our emotions just went up," she explained. "It was crazy, we won the quarter-finals and made it to the semi-finals, that was our high point. I guess today, I was hoping we could stay up there, but we kind of fell low."
The game proved to be a huge letdown following a scintillating and emotional men's doubles semi-final that saw Denmark's Carsten Mogensen and Mathias Boe survive a three-game, hour and 17 minute marathon against South Korea, winning the final game 22-20.
But, the young Canadians left with their heads held high nevertheless.
"With the chance we were given, we did as much as we could," said Bruce. "I think we were a bit nervous. It's hard to play really, really well three times in a row. It's just too bad we couldn't bring out enough to make it more exciting for the crowd."
"We didn't really want to disappoint people from Canada who are for the first time watching the sport," added Li, who's only 20 "I guess we couldn't really take the pressure.
"A door opened for us and it would be stupid for us not to take it," she added. "We tried to fight for every chance that we could and we tried to take advantage of it and we tried really hard on the court."
Brian McNair is in London covering the Olympics for the Metroland Media Group