The retirement of badminton legend Lin Dan leaves China without a ready replacement to take over as conqueror of the world. The country has been blessed with many unforgettable players who ruled through the decades, ever since it came out of its self-imposed isolation in 1992. Here’s a look at some of the best Chinese players to have graced the world’s courts.
He was one of the world’s leading players in the 80s, when China first came out of isolation to join the rest of the world in badminton. He played alongside Morten Frost (Denmark), Liem Swie King (Indonesia) and Prakash Padukone (India). Han Jian was known for his cool and steady play, conforming to the typical game of long rallies at that time. He became the first Chinese world champion shuttler for men’s singles with his win over Frost in the 1985 World Badminton Championships in Calgary. He also won two golds in team and individual men’s singles at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. He was also in the Chinese Thomas Cup team that took part– and won the trophy– for the first time in 1982. He was also the winner in 1979 in the world championships organised by World Badminton Federation (WBF), the rival of the current parent organisation Badminton World Federation (BWF).
He was the first badminton player to claim back-to-back World Badminton Championships men’s singles titles in 1987 and 1989). That outstanding record will remain for another 18 years until countryman Lin Dan retained his world title in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. Known for his quick footwork, great agility and coolness under pressure, Yang Yang won the men’s singles gold medal when badminton was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Summer Olympics. A player of short stature, he was known for his boundless energy and his deadly jumping smashes. He was instrumental in China’s consecutive Thomas Cup titles in 1986,1988, and 1990. In 1992, he coached the Malaysian team that won the Thomas Cup again after 25 years.
Like Yang Yang, Zhao Jianhua was another exceptionally talented left-handed player. The “Clown Prince” kept China’s winning tradition intact by winning the 1991 World Badminton Championships men’s singles title, beating Indonesia’s Alan Budikusuma in the final. He is one of the few players to have won consecutive Asian Games men’s singles title in 1986 and 1990, defeating his brilliant compatriot Yang Yang in the final on both occasions. Zhao Jianhua was known for his hard to predict jumping smashes. He was one of the “four heavenly Kings” of the time, the others being fellow Chinese Yang Yang, Indonesia’s Icuk Sugiarto and Denmark’s Morten Frost.
He was one of the leading singles players to come from China from the late 90s to the first few years of the 21st century. Xia Xuanze, who was known for his aggressive speed and agility, became the world champion in men’s singles in Birmingham in 2003 after stopping Malaysia’s Wong Choong Hann in what was a historic first final appearance for Malaysia at that time. Xia Xuanze won most of the major tournaments and the only thing to elude him was the Olympic gold medal. He came closest in Sydney in 2000 when he lost to Hendrawan of Indonesia in the semi-finals before returning to take the bronze by beating Dane Peter-Gade Christensen. He is now the men’s singles head coach for China.
Widely considered the best badminton player of the modern era, Lin Dan announced his retirement after a stellar 20-year career. He has won everything the sport has to offer, including five men’s singles world title and two Olympic titles. Nicknamed Super Dan by Dane Peter-Gade Christensen, he courted greatness by lying low and chasing big occasions and causing dramatic disappointments in Malaysian Lee Chong Wei’s career. He, Christensen, Chong Wei and Indonesian Taufik Hidayat were dubbed the “Four Kings”, successors to the earlier four legends.