Despite their fierce rivalry on the badminton court, Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan and runner-up Datuk Lee Chong Wei are friends outside of it.
BEFORE the London Olympics, worldwide media regarded the men's singles final showdown between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei as one of the most anticipated duels of the Games.
The duel was greatly awaited, too, in China. The record 60 million television viewers who watched the final last Sunday proved just that.
The viewers were not disappointed as both badminton stars dished out one of the best games in Olympic history. The game had it all packed with skills, wit, intensity and drama, not to mention the exquisite quality shots produced by the players.
With the game going either way towards the end, only luck and a heart of steel separated the players. Lin Dan won the great contest by two points in the 79-minute 15-21, 21-10, 21-19 thriller.
Instead of hailing their hero and two-time Olympic champion, most Chinese fans praised both shuttlers for producing some of the best badminton of the modern era.
Their hearts went out to Lee, who was so close to winning the battle and an elusive gold medal for Malaysia. They saluted the Malaysian for fighting to recover from an ankle injury weeks before the Olympics.
They yearn for more of the Lin Dan-Lee Chong Wei rivalry while hoping that the players will maintain a cordial friendship off the court.
From the beginning of his quest to defend the title he won at the Beijing Games, Lin Dan emphasised the smooth execution of his game plan instead of worrying about the outcome of his matches.
Unlike the Olympics four years ago when his ultimate goal was to win the gold, this time the 28-year-old Chinese shuttler has learned to enjoy badminton and show his worth in the game.
“In the past four years, I no longer view my results and achievements so seriously. One thing remains unchanged is that I have maintained a high level of performance as a professional athlete.
“I work hard during training every day. As long as I am on the court, I must try to play to my best ability. Nowadays, my fans do not care too much about the final result and they just hope to see the real Lin Dan in my game,” he said in an interview after his return from London on Thursday.
Lin Dan said if he were to lose in the London Games final, he would still be happy as the exciting match had helped promote the game a great deal.
In an earlier interview with China Central Television, he said he consoled Lee after the match.
“While waiting for the medal presentation, he was very sad. He sat on a chair and many coaches offered him words of consolation. I gave him a hug as I knew that he was still sad because he had to settle for a silver medal.
“I wanted to tell him that it was a great match. I believe that no matter who won it, the fans from the losing country would not have any complaints because we had displayed our best abilities,” Lin Dan said.
Now that the Olympics is over for them, Lin Dan and Lee will take a much deserved break and catch up with each other. Both players have been good friends since they met in the Asian junior championship in 2000.
“I am lucky to have the company of great players like Lee, Peter Gade-Christensen and Taufik Hidayat throughout my badminton career.
“Lee and I will meet when he comes to China for a tournament this month. I hope that he can come here more often, be my guest and we can become very good friends,” Lin Dan was quoted by QQ.com news portal as saying.
Lee responded that he would be more than happy to meet his Chinese rival again.
Lee had said he would stay around until 2014 and try to win the world championship title in Guangzhou next year. He would also bid to defend his title in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
As for Lin Dan, he will first hold a wedding reception with his wife Xie Xingfang, a former world women's singles champion and Beijing Games silver medallist, next month.
Then, he will think of his future.
“If I want to continue playing badminton, I will have to set new goals and look for a driving force. If I am able to find the right direction, I will continue to be the Lin Dan whom everyone is familiar with, train as hard as before and treat each game seriously,” he said.
Lin Dan is the first player in the modern era to complete a Grand Slam, including the Olympic and Asian Games gold, Thomas Cup and Sudirman Cup winner's medals, and world championship and All-England championship titles.