KUALA LUMPUR: Fifteen years ago in a packed Kuala Lumpur arena, increasing stars Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei fulfilled in a final for the very first time, setting the stage for what would end up being badminton’s biggest rivalry.
Malaysia’s Lee, then 22, was up to the floor, punched the air and blew kisses to the crowd after his see-sawing, 88- minute 17-15, 9-15, 15 -9 triumph, when he resisted from behind in the first and last video games.
” Everyone saw how (Lin) played,” said Lee, who was the defending champ, after his win at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton Stadium.
” He is excellent in attack and his overhead smashes and forehand crosscourt shots threaten. It is very pleasing to beat him.”
It was a fittingly tense start for a match-up that would span 2 Olympic finals and two world championship deciders, and drew a new generation of fans.
However the match would remain among the peaks for Lee, who lost his 4 world and Olympic finals against the Chinese excellent and retired last year without winning either of the sport’s leading 2 titles.
BAD BOY V GOOD GUY
Lee, now 37, and Lin, 36, played 40 times in overall, with the Chinese player convincingly winning their head-to-head 28-12
Lin won in straight games in Beijing in 2008, however Lee came agonisingly close to gold at London 2012, leading 19-18 in the deciding video game prior to fatefully leaving a shot that dropped on the line.
Bracketing the 2012 defeat, Lee lost world title matches to Lin in 2011 and then in 2013 in southern China, when the air conditioning mysteriously stopped working mid-match and the Malaysian was stretchered off with cramp as he dealt with match point.
Referred To As “Super Dan”, Lin had a track record as badminton’s bad young boy – he sported numerous tattoos, abnormally for a Chinese gamer, and strutted around the court with supreme self-confidence.
The two-time Olympic and five-time world champ, frequently considered the best badminton player ever, frequently faced debate. In 2008, he threw a tantrum during a training session after which he had to deny striking his coach.
On the other hand, Lee was quiet and unassuming. His simple demeanour belied a stunning variety of weapons on the court – he was blessed with lightning reflexes and when held the record for the world’s fastest smash.
His 19- year career also had its fair share of drama.
The then world primary was prohibited after testing positive for a proscribed anti-inflammatory at the 2014 world championships, and was sidelined for 8 months till authorities eventually accepted his description he took it inadvertently.
‘ WE HAVE TO SALUTE HIM’
Lee released a comeback and beat Lin in an awesome semi-final at the 2016 Rio Olympics – just to lose once again in the final, this time to another Chinese gamer, Chen Long.
The powerful star longed for a final shot at Olympic gold at the Tokyo Games, now delayed due to the coronavirus, however his hopes were rushed after being diagnosed with nose cancer in 2018.
He recovered after treatment but struggled to regain his form, and revealed his retirement last year at a tearful press conference.
With 705 wins and 69 titles, Lee is a national hero in Malaysia, which has actually produced couple of first-rate athletes.
However Lin has not hit his former heights in current years, and with retirement looming he looked particular to miss out on the Tokyo Olympics prior to they were held off to next year.
And only last month, Lee explained his bane, who is still playing, as a “legend”.
” His titles speak for themselves.