To many he is simply the greatest badminton player of all time – but Lin Dan’s stunning performance at London 2012 raised his profile yet further.
Know as Super Dan to his fans, his epic final showdown with long-time rival Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia saw the four-times world champion defend the singles gold he earned at Beijing in 2008.
After winning 15-21, 21-10, 21-19 the tattoo-clad showman known as the Rock Star of Badminton stripped off his shirt and sprinted around the court, grinning and punching the air.
Lin’s extraordinary display of emotion showed just how much his second Olympic gold medal meant to him – even though he had by 2011 become the first and only player to achieve the Super Grand Slam, winning every badminton title there is to win.
Born in 1983, Lin took up the sport at the age of five and became part of the Chinese national squad at 18.
In 2000 the left-hander – known already for his phenomenal speed and 200mph smash – won the Asian Junior Championships in both the team and boys’ singles events. He turned professional the following year and his first major title, the Korea Open, came in 2002 – but three years of setbacks were to follow.
After a string of quarter-final and semi-final tournament exits he crashed out of the 2004 Athens Games early at the hands of Ronald Susilo of Singapore. But after that disappointment Lin’s upward momentum resumed – the mark of a true sporting great – and he won the Denmark, German and China Open titles.
Over the years Lin developed a fierce rivalry with Malaysia’s Lee, with both players switching between being first and second-ranked in the world.
By the time of the 2008 Games in Beijing the stage was set for yet another enthralling showdown between two badminton masters.
Come London 2012 and 6,000 fans – mainly Chinese and Malaysians – packed the Wembley Arena for the men’s singles final. It was the gold medal badminton-mad China wanted above all others; and the one Malaysia hoped would be its first.
Though the match was closer than the 2008 Olympic contest, with extraordinary rallies and more like a duel than a badminton match, Lin again prevailed.
He demolished Lee 21–12, 21–8 and became the first men’s singles player to win the Olympic gold as a first seed, leaving his opponent in tears on the podium, despite having ended his own country’s 16-year medal drought.
After the final Lin said: ‘Lee is such a brilliant rival. This is quite lucky for me. I treasure the opportunities to play against him. This gold again confirmed my hard work over the years, because I knew to get this again I’d have to work even harder.’
Though he vowed to carry on playing on the world stage, Lin has since indicated that he may be coming to the end of his career. It could just be that those Wembley Arena spectators were the last to see a badminton legend in Olympic action.