Chong Wei and Lin Dan save badminton
Lee Chong Wei moved heaven and earth at the London Games on Sunday, in his bid to win Malaysia's first Olympic gold medal ever, but in the end he couldn't conquer badminton's highest peak.
China's Lin Dan overhauled Chong Wei in the final of the men's badminton singles to become the first man to defend the title and break our hearts once again.
Chong Wei charged out of the blocks to raise our hopes, but Lin dug deep for a 15–21 21–10 21–19 victory to deny him in their second successive Games final. They fought a 79-minute thriller, the conclusion of every point roared on by a packed crowd at Wembley Arena.
Chong Wei threw everything at his long-time nemesis, but he lost the final point when he pushed a lob past the baseline, sending Lin into a frenzy. As he wheeled away in ecstasy after sealing the gold, a distraught Chong Wei slumped to the court unable to believe he had Lin on the ropes but let him get away.
"I apologise to all the Malaysian people. I wanted very much to win the first ever gold medal for my people," Chong Wei told reporters later. "I only prepared for two weeks because of injuries and had to take pain killers to play. I fought hard and I gave all my best to try to win."
"I thank all the supporters who came all the way from Malaysia," he added. "I feel sorry that I didn't win gold and feel disappointed that I couldn't deliver gold to the Malaysian team."
Chong Wei went into the tournament scrambling to be fit after sustaining an ankle injury in May, and after surviving a shaky first round win, he mowed through a succession of opponents to set up a chance of redemption against Lin.
Lin defeated Chong Wei at the Beijing Olympics four years ago to win an emotional gold medal on his home court, but on Sunday he had to survive withering pressure from our man who delivered the performance of a lifetime in the frenetic atmosphere of the arena. But it wasn't enough to get the better of the current world number one.
Chong Wei, who has held the number one ranking but never won a world or Asian Games title, was desperate to end our 48-year wait for an Olympic gold. He came agonisingly close, pushing to within two points of victory, but made a judgement call he may regret for years when he allowed the shuttlecock to fall and clip the baseline.
That opened the door for Lin, and with frenzied Chinese fans yelling "Kill! Kill!" Lin closed out the match to win the classic rally. He dashed madly to a corner of the venue to be wrapped up in a bear hug by coach Li Yongbo, while Chong Wei dropped to his knees as his coaches tried to console him.
Chong Wei, who tore an ankle tendon in May and was at one point doubtful to get on the plane for London, paid tribute to his Chinese foe after the battle.
"There can only be one Lin Dan in the world," he said. "We have other players like Taufik Hidayat, Peter Gade, Chen Long ... It's not an issue for me to play with those players but it's an issue for me to play Lin Dan."
Chong Wei thanked his vocal fans for going all the way to London to support him and was disappointed not to give them the gold they so dearly wanted. "I wanted to win so much that it became too much pressure. Everyone at home wanted me to win. I worked very hard but what is done is done."
Chong Wei's coach, Rashid Sidek, acknowledged the weight of expectation he had carried throughout the Games. "It is very frustrating because all the mission wanted him to win the first ever gold medal for Malaysia," said Rashid. "It was very disappointing but it was especially disappointing for him."
Malaysia's chef de mission Tun Ahmad Sarji said Chong Wei had given his all in the game. "It is like climbing Mount Everest—Lee was one or two steps from the summit, that is all," he said.
Lin also paid tribute to Chong Wei. "Lee is such a brilliant rival. This is quite lucky for me. I treasure the opportunities to play against him. I don't know if I'll play against him in another four years but we'll see each other in Chinese badminton tournaments."
Wembley Arena is used to seeing China sweep tournaments. A year ago they marched in holding all five world titles and marched back out having retained them all. While Lin was guarded about the impact of China's dominance on the sport, Chong Wei pulled no punches.
"It is good for China, but as for the other countries they have to work harder," he said. "Other countries need to have a succession plan and they need to work harder to stop China dominating this sport."
Lin said he hoped his epic final against Chong Wei would showcase the very best of badminton, after the sport was rocked by a match-throwing scandal that saw eight female players disqualified from the London Games.
"I really hope badminton isn't affected by the disqualifications in this tournament. This medal is a confirmation of the sport. I hope that my performance and Lee's performance today is evidence of that," he said.
Meanwhile, a long-delayed banquet to celebrate Lin's marriage beckons for the 28-year-old and his wife Xie Xingfang, herself a former world champion badminton player who took silver at the Beijing Games.
Delayed for years by his training for London, Lin said that when it came together he would invite Chong Wei and 2004 Athens champion Taufik Hidayat, both of whom have confirmed they will never play in another Games.
"I want to give my wife a perfect wedding," Lin said. "I definitely want to invite Lee and Taufik and other great players. It all depends on whether they have time. I don't ask for too many gifts, just a big hongbao," he joked.
Chong Wei's silver medal was Malaysia's first at the London Games and the fifth in total at the Olympics—three silver and two bronze—all in badminton.
Published: 6th August 2012