[London 2012]Badminton Men Final [LD vs LCW]

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[London 2012]Badminton Men Final [LD vs LCW]

Post by Coffee on Tue Aug 07, 2012 5:31 am

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The fact that Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei were playing each other for the gold medal in the men’s singles badminton tournament appeared to have escaped most in the capital.
Which is hardly surprising, of course. Sports fans, especially those short-term fans lured into the stands by the irresistible scent of zeitgeist, are stubbornly parochial sorts. All home interest was extinguished some days ago, and yesterday almost the only English being spoken was by the volunteers and at the food stalls.
So while the eyes of Britain were on Andy Murray and Ben Ainslie, for a fifth of the world’s population, Lin versus Lee was the only show in town.
China may have won 51 gold medals in Beijing - and are set to approach that here - but this is the one they want above all others. Malaysia, meanwhile, crave this as only a nation of 28 million people that has never won an Olympic gold medal can.
Murray may be Britain’s only decent tennis player, but even he cannot know the burden of carrying a nation’s entire sporting aspiration. Lee Chong Wei does. In fact, he may be Malaysia’s only genuinely world-class athlete, with all the crushing expectation that entails.
He is reported to be on a 4.5 million ringgit (£920,000) bonus if he wins gold. The entire nation has stayed up late to watch the final. Many, indeed, have made the trip to north-west London, cheering shrilly between points and turning the arena into a fresco of flags and banners.
Much is written about great sporting rivalries: Federer v Nadal, Lochte v Phelps, Messi v Ronaldo. In global terms, Lin Dan versus Lee Chong Wei sits firmly among them. The pair have been at the top of the sport for four years, playing 13 major finals in that time. Lin won their first Olympic final, in Beijing. This will be their second, and last.
The rivalry has not always been entirely friendly. Malaysians dislike Lin’s brashness, his wild celebrations, his naked displays of emotion.
In fact, the more you get to know Lin, the less he fits the archetype of a Chinese athlete. He has a wicked sense of humour. He is loud and demonstrative.
They call him the ‘rock star of badminton’. He has tattoos on either arm — the name of his wife on the right, five stars on the left, representing his five major titles. He also has a cross on his left arm. He has never publicly said what it means.
The match begins amid an electrifying racket. Lee races out of the blocks, taking the first game 21-15. Lin hits back, winning the second 21-10. The stage is set for a theatrical finish.
Lin’s most feared weapon is the extraordinary speed he can generate from his left-handed smash. This is not just pace on the shuttle — up to 200mph — but speed of thought too. Lin somehow manages to return the shuttle a fraction of a second earlier than you expect him to. His every shot is laced with venom, the snap of a wicked wrist.
There is such power in his overhead shots that few players can withstand the barrage for long.
But Lee is one of those. He has a magnificent defence, the quickest reflexes in the game, and a deftness of touch that we may as well call genius. He is a master of subtle disguise, angling his racquet at the point of contact, wrong-footing opponents who attempt to second-guess him. He opens up an 8-5 lead in the deciding game.
Lee throws up a deep, high lob. Lin studies its trajectory like a jeweller examining a precious diamond, before deciding to leave it. The shuttle lands half an inch out of court yet is called good. Lin remonstrates furiously with the umpire. A few seats away, a Chinese journalist yells out. “That’s ridiculous!” After a little heavy remonstration, the decision is overturned. 8-6 to Lee. It proves to be a crucial call. To the increasingly shrill cries of the Chinese fans, Lin takes five of the next six points.
To watch these two duelling is to watch sport in a near-perfect form. At 19-all, Lee retrieves a big smash. Lin winds those huge shoulders up once more. But this is a drop shot! Lee desperately tries to reverse his momentum, but cannot get there. Match point.
Barely has Lee sent a soaring lift fractionally long on the next point than Lin has dropped his racquet and is sprinting around the arena, dropping to his feet, his coaches embracing him.
Lee drops to the ground too, hunched over his knees in dejection. This was his last chance at Olympic gold. He is to retire after the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Afterwards, the pair embrace and reflect. “There can only be one Lin Dan in the world,” Lee says. “We have developed a good friendship over the years.
"At the end of the month, when we player in the Chinese league, we will further enhance our relationship and help each other in badminton.” The tears flow.
“Lee is such a brilliant rival,” Lin says. “I treasure the opportunities we have to play each other. Who knows whether we will play each other in four years time? But in any case, we’re going to be very good friends. At the end of this month we will be seeing each other at the Chinese badminton tournament. I invite Mr Lee Chong Wei to visit China frequently.”
There is one final mystery to be cleared up, and that is the meaning of the cross on Lin’s left arm. He reveals that it is for his grandmother, a Christian, who prays for him before matches. He is getting married later in the year to fellow player Xie Xingfang, and invites Lee to the ceremony.
Even though this is the first time I have seen them, there is a strange feeling of loss as they depart, translators and entourage in tow. Like all the great sporting rivalries, this one is based not only on great skill but an almost boundless mutual respect. Can you imagine Roger Federer beating Rafa Nadal and then inviting him over for cake afterwards? Who, indeed, could fail to love a sport like this?

[reply thank you to see the DDL link]

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