He was the rival who drove me to great heights, says Chong Wei

PETALING JAYA: “Dari tak ada rambut, tumbuh rambut, sampai tanggal rambut (“from hairless to hairy and then to balding”) – that was how Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei described his ties with fellow badminton star Lin Dan, who has quit after 20 glorious years.

The two have been rivals and friends from their days as juniors and Chong Wei paid tribute to Lin Dan in a humorous way on Facebook, sharing a picture of their early friendship when both were young boys.

The duo later went on to fight many intense battles on the world badminton scene.

Lin Dan won 28 of the 40 encounters against Chong Wei, accounting for the latter’s four major misses at the Olympics and World Championships.

Not only did Lin Dan pip Chong Wei to the Olympics gold in Beijing 2008 and London 2012, he also broke Malaysian hearts in the world meet finals in London 2011 and Guangzhou 2013.

From their very first duel at the Thomas Cup Asia Qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur in 2004 to their final match at the 2018 All-England Open quarter-finals, any clash between Chong Wei and Lin Dan was a mesmerising show of court-craft that was in a league of their own.

Lin Dan’s resignation from the Chinese national team means he will not be competing at the Tokyo Olympics next year and Chong Wei saw it as a big loss to the sport.

It is not surprising, considering that the southpaw has five world titles, two Olympic gold medals and is widely considered the best badminton player ever.

“I knew this day will come. It’s not easy to make up your mind (on retiring). You have decided to bow out gracefully, doing so one year after I choose to retire.

“I am proud to have known you as a great opponent on court and also as a friend,” said Chong Wei, who retired in June last year after a battle with nose cancer.

Both players share a passion for fast cars and have former top badminton singles players as their wives. Chong Wei married former China Open champion Wong Mew Choo while Lin Dan tied the knot with former world champion shuttler Xie Xingfang in 2012.

“I have known him since our junior days. I lost many important battles on court but I have no regrets,” said Chong Wei.

“You are truly the king in the battles we fought,” Chong Wei, a three-time Olympic silver medallist, told his rival, who he credited for his own rise to dizzying heights.

“Lin Dan was always in my head when I got back to training after every defeat. I knew if I wanted to win important tournaments, I had to beat him. I couldn’t relax.

“Even when I was cramping up, I told my coach I wanted to continue training because Lin Dan was waiting for me. I was thinking about him all the time.”

Former Danish great Peter-Gade Christensen, who with Lin Dan, Chong Wei and Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat formed the Four Kings of badminton, also paid tribute to the Chinese, saying it was a privilege to have battled him on so many occasions.

“I am truly honoured to have played with him so many times. He’s the last in our group to retire,” said Christensen.

Christensen, also a former world No. 1, and Taufik retired in 2012.

“Lin Dan is probably the best player of all time, in the new era at least. He has been an amazing athlete and a good ambassador for our sport. We are lucky to have him in the sport.”

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