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Known as “Super Dan”, China’s Lin Dan has won every title badminton has to offer. A two-time Olympic champion, Lin’s bid to win a third gold at Rio 2016 was ended in the semi-finals by his old adversary, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, the latest instalment in a long-running rivalry that has lit up the sport for a decade.
Regarded as the greatest badminton player of all time, Lin Dan is the only man to have won back-to-back Olympic singles titles, a feat he achieved at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. A five-time world champion between 2006 and 2013, he is also the only player in badminton history to have won the Super Grand Slam, having lifted all nine of the sport’s major titles: the Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup, BWF Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games and the Asian Championships.
Lin has achieved all this while playing his full part in one of the greatest rivalries the sport has ever seen, going head to head time and again with Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who was on the other side of the net when the Chinese star won his second Olympic gold in London. That match was their 14th meeting in a major tournament final, just another in a series of truly memorable encounters that has thrilled badminton fans the world over.
Lin, who likes nothing better than to celebrate his victories with his fans, had already won two world titles and a string of other competitions by the time he made his second Olympic appearance at Beijing 2008, where he harnessed the vocal support of the home crowd to cruise through to the final. His opponent there was none other than Lee, who was powerless to prevent the home favourite from chalking up a 21-12, 21-8 victory that was sealed by a powerful smash, with an elated Lin celebrating by throwing himself to the floor and then rushing into the crowd to hug his supporters. What made his stunning victory all the more special was the fact that he was the first No1-seeded player in an Olympic men’s singles tournament to go on and win the gold.
Known as “Super Dan” and the “Rock Star of Badminton”, Lin is capable of propelling the shuttlecock at a speed of more than 330 km/h with his left-hand smashes, and also boasts a lightning-fast return and superlative touch. He backed up his memorable home Olympic triumph by winning a third world title in 2009 and a fourth in 2011, a year in which, at the age of 28, he completed his Super Grand Slam by defeating fellow countryman Chen Long in the Super Series Masters Finals in Liuzhou (CHN).
When Lin met his old foe Lee in the Olympic final at London 2012, it was the Malaysian – this time seeded No1 – who took the first set, 21-15. The Chinese star struck back to win the second 21-10, setting up a breathless deciding set that began with a determined Lee pulling out an 8-5 lead. Though Lin came back once more, his opponent stayed with him, taking the score to 19-19 in a heart-stopping finale. Lin then advanced to match point with a cunning drop shot, before Lee hit long to hand victory to the reigning champion, who celebrated in trademark fashion by sprinting off towards the crowd with arms outstretched. “There can only be one Lin Dan in the world,” a gracious Lee said in defeat, before adding: “We have developed a good friendship over the years.” Lin was equally admiring of his dogged opponent: “Lee is such a brilliant rival. I treasure the opportunities we have to play each other. Who knows whether we will play each other in four years time? But in any case, we’re going to be very good friends.”
Lee was on the other side of the net again when Lin clinched his fifth world crown in front of his own fans in Guangzhou in 2013, a match that ended prematurely when the Malaysian retired in the final set. The following year the Chinese won the Asian Games for a fourth time, and went on to take the honours in the Olympic test event in Rio November 2015. “The competition (for places) in China is ferocious,” he said after winning in Brazil. “Starting with my training this winter (in the northern hemisphere) I will be working systematically. Next year, I will become totally focused on the competitions. I love badminton, and representing China is an honour for me.” With nations restricted to entering a maximum of two players for the men’s singles, Lin did what he had to do in April 2016, beating world No1 Chen in two sets in the final of the China Masters (a BWF Grand Prix Gold event) to win the competition for the sixth time and secure a fourth appearance at the Olympic Games.
Lin fought his way through to the semi-finals at Rio 2016, where, almost inevitably, Lee was waiting for him. This time it was the Malaysian who prevailed, earning a thrilling 15-21, 21-11, 22-20 victory, with Lin then suffering a three-set defeat to Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the bronze medal match Ten years the Chinese great’s junior, Axelsen said he was “shocked” at beating a player he has been watching since he was a little boy. Contemplating what the future might hold for him, Lin said he had yet to make up his mind about retiring. “I’ve been focusing on nothing else but these Games,” he said, after watching his compatriot Chen beat Lee in the Olympic final. “I’m going to go away and get some rest, and then I’ll make my decision.”