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Regarded as the greatest badminton player of all time, Lin Dan is out on his own as the only man to have retained the Olympic singles title. A five-time world champion between 2006 and 2013, he is also the only player in 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, Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games and the Asian Championships.
He has achieved all this while playing his full part in one of the greatest rivalries the sport has ever seen, going toe to toe time and again with Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who was on the other side of the net when Lin won his second Olympic gold medal at London 2012. That match was their 14th meeting in a major tournament final, the duo serving up some truly memorable encounters along the way, thrilling fans the world over.
Lin, who is never shy of celebrating his wins 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 vociferous support of the home crowd, cruising 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 win that was sealed by a powerful smash, with an elated Lin greeting victory by throwing himself to the floor and then rushing into the crowd to hug his fans. His stunning victory was made all the more special by 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 Olympic win on home soil by winning the world title again in 2009 and 2011, a year in which, at the age of 28, he completed his Super Grand Slam by defeating fellow countryman Chen Long in the BWF 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 hit back to win the second 21-10, teeing up a breathless deciding set that began with a determined Lee pulling out an 8-5 lead. Though Lin hit back, his opponent stayed with him, taking the score to 19-19 in a heart-stopping finale.
Lin then moved to match point with a cunning drop shot, before Lee hit long to hand victory to the reigning champion, who greeted victory by running off towards the crowd with arms outstretched.
“There can only be one Lin Dan in the world,” Lee said. “We have developed a good friendship over the years.”
“Lee is such a brilliant rival,” Lin said. “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.”
Lin beat Lee again to clinch 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, in Incheon (KOR), and in November 2015 he took the honours in the Olympic test event in Rio.
“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 is doing all he can to nail down one of China’s slots.
In April he beat his compatriot and current world No1 Chen in straight sets in the final of the China Masters (a BWF Grand Prix Gold event), the sixth time he has won the event. That victory helped take him to third in the world rankings published on 5 May 2016, the cut-off date for Olympic qualification, with behind Lee ranked second and Chen remaining on top.
That ranking should be enough to guarantee the 32-year-old Lin a place in the singles competition at Rio, where he will go in search of an unprecedented hat-trick.