by MIke Grossman

December 3, 1996 (New Shuttlenws) - The top badminton athletes in the world begin battling for the sport's biggest purse tomorrow at the Lipton World Grand Prix Finals in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. The tournament is the year-ending event of the top-tier international badminton competition circuit called the Grand Prix and offers total prize money of 350 thousand U.S. dollars.

16 of the top men's singles performers on the Grand Prix tour, 12 of the top women's singles players, and 8 of the best pairs in each of the doubles disciplines - men's, women's and mixed - will be playing in the three-stage competition for the titles of 1996 Grand Prix Finals champions and the accompanying prize money.

There are 3 Atlanta Olympic gold medalists (Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen in men's singles, Ricky Subagja and Rexy Mainaky in men's doubles, Ge Fei and Gu Jun in women's doubles), 3 silver medalists (Dong Jiong in men's singles, Mia Audina in women's singles, Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock in men's doubles), and 4 bronze medalists (Rashid Sidek in men's singles, Susi Susanti in women's singles, Denny Kantono and Antonius Iriantho in men's doubles, Tang Yongshu and Qin Yiyuan in women's doubles) among the competitors at this super-elite tournament.

There are also 2 current world champions (Ye Zhaoying in women's singles, Ricky Subagja and Rexy Mainaky in men's doubles) and 3 and a half world championship runners-up (Han Jingna in women's singles, Thomas Lund and Jon Holst-Christensen in men's doubles, Helene Kirkegaard and Rikke Olsen in women's doubles, Helene Kirkegaard in mixed doubles) making it to the Grand Prix Finals.

Missing notables are the Olympic women's singles gold medalist, Bang Soo Hyun of Korea, who has gotten married and has retired, the current men's singles world champion, Heryanto Arbi of Indonesia, who has been suffering from thigh injuries and who did not make the Grand Prix Finals cut, the Olympic mixed doubles gold medalists, Kim Dong Moon and Gil Young Ah of Korea, who are catching up with their university studies, and the silver medalists, Park Joo Bong and Ra Kyung Min, also of Korea.

Park, the peerless Korean doubles specialist, has re-retired and is headed for the United Kingdom to coach British elite players and to do advanced studies in Physical Education, while Ra is resuming her badminton singles career.

Also missing from Bali are some players who had qualified for the Grand Prix Finals but could not compete.

Kim Hak Kyun of Korea made the cut in men's singles but begged off due to his studies. He was replaced by the 17th-ranked player on the circuit, Martin Lundgaard Hansen of Denmark.

Zhang Ning of China and Kim Ji Hyun of Korea also qualified for the Finals but are not playing. Zhang is injured and Kim did not want to make the trip as the sole Korean. They were replaced by Gong Zhichao of China and Lidya Djaelawidjaya of Indonesia, ranked 13 and 14 respectively. (Zhang Ning is reportedly in Denpasar and may have recovered from her injury; it is not known whether she will play and who between Gong and Djaelawidjaya will get displaced, if Zhang does compete).

In women's doubles, the 5th-ranked English pair of Julie Bradbury and Joanne Goode are not competing due to Bradbury's pregnancy while the 8th-ranked Chinese duo of Peng Xingyong and Zhang Jin withdrew because of an injury to Zhang Jin. Called up to take the two vacated spots are Christine Gandrup and Marina Andrievskaia of Sweden and the pair of Nicky Beck and Joanne Davies of England, the 9th and 10th pairs in the Grand Prix ranking list.

In mixed doubles, the third-rated Park and Ra combo and the 6th-rated Archer and Bradbury pairing are out. The 9th-rated Swedish pair of Jan-Eric Antonsson and Astrid Crabo could not accept the call-up as substitutes due to Antonsson's current assignment with the Swedish coast guard or navy. The 10th-rated combination, Ha Tae Kwon and Kim Shin Young from Korea, also were unable to accept due to their university studies.

Filling up the mixed doubles vacancies are the 11th-ranked pair of Peter Axelsson and Catrine Bengtsson from Sweden and the 12th-ranked English-Danish duo of Chris Hunt and Helene Kirkegaard.

The first stage of the competition that begins tomorrow and runs through to Friday is a round-robin stage. The players and pairs have been grouped into pools of 4 (3 for women's singles). The players and pairs will play all the other members of their group with the top players in each singles group and the top two pairs in the doubles groups going on to the next phase - the knockout semifinals on Saturday.

The semifinal winners then go on to the finals on Sunday.

In men's singles, the groupings are:

Group A - Joko Suprianto (Indonesia), Fung Permadi (Chinese Taipei), Chen Gang (China), and Martin Lundgard Hansen (Denmark)
Group B - Dong Jiong (China), Ong Ewe Hock (Malaysia), Thomas Stuer-Lauridsen (Denmark), and Indra Wijaya (Indonesia)
Group C - Rashid Sidek (Malaysia), Sun Jun (China), Hermawan Susanto (Indonesia), and Soren Nielsen (Denmark)
Group D - Poul-Erik Hoyer-Larsen (Denmark), Allan Budikusuma (Indonesia), Budi Santoso (Indonesia), and Hu Zhilan (China)

Suprianto, Dong, Sidek and Hoyer are the seeded players in their respective groups.

In the semifinals, the Group A winner will play the Group B winner, while the Group C winner will face the top player from Group D.

In women's singles, the groupings are:

Group A - Mia Audina (Indonesia), Gong Zhichao (China), and Christine Gandrup (Sweden)
Group B - Ye Zhaoying (China), Meiluawati (Indonesia), and Yao Yan (China)
Group C - Wang Chen (China), Camilla Martin (Denmark), and Lidya Djaelawidjaya (Indonesia)
Group D - Susi Susanti (Indonesia), Zeng Yaqiong (China), and Han Jingna (China)

Audina, Ye, Wang and Susanti are the seeded players.

In men's doubles, the groupings are:

Group A - Cheah Soon Kit and Yap Kim Hock (Malaysia), Ricky Subagja and Rexy Mainaky (Indonesia), Tony Gunawan and Rudy Wijaya (Indonesia), Peter Axelsson and Par-Gunnar Jonsson (Sweden)
Group B - Denny Kantono and Antonius Iriantho (Indonesia), Chandra Wijaya and Sigit Budiarto (Indonesia), Jon Holst-Christensen and Thomas Lund (Denmark), Choong Tan Fook and Lee Wan Wah (Malaysia)

Cheah and Yap and the pair of Kantono and Antonius are the seeded entries.

In the semifinals, the winner of Group A will play the second-placer in Group B, while the top pair in Group B will face the Group A runner-up.

In women's doubles, the groupings are:

Group A - Isoliana Indarti and Denyana Lomban (Indonesia), Lisbet Stuer-Lauridsen and Marlene Thomsen (Denmark), Qin Yiyuan and Tang Yongshu (China), Christine Gandrup and Marina Andrievskaia (Sweden)
Group B - Eliza and Rosiana Zelin (Indonesia), Ge Fei and Gu Jun (China), Helene Kirkegaard and Rikke Olsen (Denmark), Nicola Beck and Joanne Davies (England)

Indarti and Lomban and the team of Eliza and Zelin are the seeded pairs.

In mixed doubles, the groupings are:

Group A - Tri Kusharyanto and Minarti Timur (Indonesia), Chen Xingdong and Peng Xingyong (China), Thomas Stavngaard and Ann Jorgensen (Denmark), Chris Hunt (England) and Helene Kirkegaard (Denmark)
Group B - Michael Sogaard and Rikke Olsen (Denmark), Nimpele Flandy and Rosalina Riseu (Indonesia), Nick Ponting and Joanne Goode (England), Peter Axelsson and Catrine Bengtsson (Sweden)

Kusharyanto and Timur and the Danish pair of Sogaard and Olsen are the seeds.