Walking away while at the top is hard – for athletes and for the sports

IT’S hard to walk away when you are riding high or still chasing your own personal summit.

Yet, there are a few who have - some for personal reasons, some to become legend and yet others because the pressure of being consistently “up there” is too hard to bear.

Names like basketball’s Michael Jordan, boxer Rocky Marciano and tennis icon Bjorn Borg may come to mind.

Recently, we have had two high-profile athletes leave the scene, both of whom are well known to many Malaysians.

World No. 1 women player Raneem El Welily announced her immediate retirement from professional squash last month, bringing to an end a phenomenal 18-year career that saw her capture a total of 24 PSA titles.

The 31-year-old was the one who ended Nicol David’s record nine-year reign at the top when in 2015. She became the first Arab female in any sport to become world No. 1.

Her decision to quit while still perched at the top of the world rankings sent shockwaves through the squash fraternity.

Many were left wondering what had sparked her to leave everything behind.

But she explained it plainly. It was just to focus on her family as she was expecting her first child with her husband, reigning men’s world champion Tarek Momen.

El Welily did not need to worry about not having a successor to carry the torch for Egypt. There are plenty of takers from the Egyptian talent factory with three compatriots also ranked inside the top six at the moment.

The badminton world also came together two weeks ago to salute Lin Dan, regarded by many to be the best shuttler to grace the modern era.

He is a true legend with five world titles and two consecutive Olympic gold medal wins.

Yet, Lin Dan decided to walk away. His body had taken a beating from injuries, age and he was losing to lower ranked players regularly.

The 36-year-old was hoping to make a never-been-attempted-before fifth Olympic Games appearance at Tokyo 2020 but the Covid-19 pandemic laid waste to his plans.

The Games will only take place next year, even then if the Covid-19 virus is no longer a major threat.

Lin Dan admitted that the thought of quitting did not come to mind at first as he kept on challenging the limits of playing as a senior athlete.

It took guts for Lin Dan to admit that no one stays young forever and that he had to bid adios to focus on his doting family.

He may have stopped playing for the national team but he will not be forgotten, that’s for sure.

The Lin Dan brand has big commercial value in China and throughout Asia.

Lin Dan and his wife Xie Xingfang, according to Chinese media, will also be busy growing their businesses, having set up several companies over the last decade.

Yonex signed a 10-year-contract with Lin Dan worth 100 million yuan (RM60 million) in 2015 and there are also several international brand endorsements.

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