Rivals in the arena, but friends in real life

A DECADE of bitter rivalry, intense battles and mutual respect – these best describe the unique duel between Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and China’s Lin Dan in badminton.

These two men’s singles superstars have indeed decorated the world of badminton with their antics, charisma and unparalleled skills on court to win the hearts of their thousands of fanatical followers.

The good news is that both are looking at keeping on-court rivalry alive until the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – thus assuring that there will be more mouth-watering clashes on the cards.

Since their first contest at the Thomas Cup qualifiers at the Kuala Lumpur Badminton (KLBA) Hall in Cheras in 2004, the duo have met a total of 31 times – with Lin Dan winning a whopping 22 of those.

The muscular Lin Dan also holds the distinction as the main spoiler in Chong Wei’s career, having denied the Malaysian major titles on many occasions.

The 31-year-old Lin Dan, one year younger than his arch enemy, defended his Olympic Games gold medal by beating Chong Wei in the final in London in 2012; defeated the Malaysian to win his first Asian Games gold in Guangzhou in 2012; and won his fifth world title by beating Chong Wei at the World Championships in Guangzhou in 2013.

Off the court, though, there seem to be some similarities.

Lin Dan is married to China’s former national No. 1 shuttler Xie Xingfang. Chong Wei tied the knot with former national No. 1 Wong Mew Choo and they are now the proud parents of a one-year-old boy named Kingston.

Thanks to their decade-long exploits and success in badminton, Chong Wei and Lin Dan are now millionaires.

Their fame has also seen them being courted by various companies to become their brand ambassadors, thus putting more dough into their already bulging wallets.

They each own several houses and drive luxury cars and are seen as great role models for youngsters.

Both have published books of their life stories to inspire the younger generation.

It seems that even documentaries about their life and times are in the pipeline.

These two superstars of the badminton world are seen as symbols of pride and honour of their respective nations.

Their sporting exploits have become unifying factors in bringing the people of their nations together as one.

Through all their epic encounters – and constant comparison of their prowess on court and popularity off court – the duo have somehow been able to maintain a cordial friendship.

In fact, in one exhibition match in conjunction with the opening of a new badminton centre in Lingshui, China, in February, Lin Dan and Chong Wei played as a pair in a doubles match for the first time.

It was a fantastic gesture on their part to show that they are willing to cast their differences and rivalry aside for a good cause and to promote the game.

Indeed, Lin Dan and Chong Wei have built something special – a bond, a legacy that will be remembered for a long time.