Ten years from now, Malaysia will still be talking about it.
In the pubs, in the clubs, in schools – they will talk about Lee Chong Wei’s loss to China’s Lin Dan for a long time to come.
The last decade of men’s singles badminton has been a battle between three: Lin Dan, Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei. The early rivalry between Hidayat and Lin Dan mostly went Hidayat’s way, but once Lin Dan matured as a player, he became the closest one could go to the word ‘unbeatable’.
With four World Championships and the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medal, Lin Dan is easily the most accomplished badminton player ever. Meanwhile, another rival had sprung up: Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, who started winning Superseries titles consistently. (In badminton, although the Superseries is often likened to the Grand Slams in tennis, it is yet a rung lower in prestige to the World Championships or the Olympics.)
As the years progressed, many doubted Chong Wei’s ability to win the really big ones: the World Championships, the Olympics, or the Asian Games gold medal.
It wasn’t a question about talent as much as it was about self-belief. At the Beijing Olympics final, with everybody talking of a dream match between Chong Wei and Lin Dan, the Chinese world champion creamed him in the final.
Chong Wei surprisingly won the 2009 All England title beating Lin Dan in the final – but the doubts remained. The All England is a prestigious title, but the World Championships or the Olympics are something else.
At the 2011 World Championships in London, the two booked a final date yet again. The match went into a third game, until Chong Wei had match point at 20-19. He just needed one more point to refute all his critics and prove himself capable of beating the great Lin Dan in a World Championships final.
Did Lin Dan suddenly play better? Did Chong Wei choke? How would we ever know? All we saw was that Lin Dan saved two match points and converted one of his own, to crown himself champion yet again. Chong Wei looked destroyed.
We thought he’d never recover from that blow. But there he was on Sunday, 5th August, playing the Olympics final for the second straight time. Lin Dan again. Could Chong Wei do it?
He won the first game easily. Lin Dan fought back to take the second. It was neck-and-neck until the end, and Chong Wei suddenly had the advantage at 19-18. It was his big moment.
One more point and he was one step away from claiming the gold.
And yet… off a high clear to the baseline, Chong Wei suddenly decided to let the shuttle drop, hoping perhaps that it would fall out. It didn’t. Lin Dan took the next two points and ran all around the arena. He’d done it yet again. Two Olympic gold medals. They will call him the Greatest of All Time from now on.
And poor Chong Wei, left to contemplate on what might have been. He’ll have to live with this for the rest of his life.