The badminton event at the London Olympics will be a landmark event for several reasons. Perhaps the foremost of these is that generations of badminton lovers will see some of their favourite stars for the last time.
To those who started following badminton over the last decade, the sport would be inconceivable without the likes of Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade. But both have announced their retirements – and although Gade is expected to retire at his home Copenhagen Masters, the Olympics will be the last defining event of his eventful career. Taufik, too, will probably not continue long after the Olympics.
But while there has been plenty of attention on Taufik, Gade, Chong Wei and Lin Dan, we must acknowledge the other veterans who are also likely to quit either after the Olympics, or in the months shortly after. These names are as closely associated with top-level badminton as Taufik or Gade, and have made immense contributions to the game. (This is a speculative list, as most of them haven’t made formal announcements, and are based on their age and current standing).
Jung Jae Sung: Korean doubles superachiever, in the company of Lee Yong Dae. The two are, along with China’s Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, the most exciting pair in men’s doubles. The pair regrouped only last year after injury problems to Jung and compulsory army conscription. They’re riding a rich vein of form now, and expected to challenge the Chinese world No.2 pair for gold. Has formally announced that London would be his last event.
Pi Hongyan: China junior singles player who emigrated to France. For long she was in the top-ten and helped bring badminton to the forefront in her adopted country. A defensive player, was a constant thorn in the side to some of the world’s best players. One got to see her at her best at the India Open 2009, when she defied her younger challengers in a masterful display of tactical badminton. A friendly and articulate type, she is associated with the charity SoliBad.
Yao Jie: One of the many Chinese players to emigrate to Europe. Yao Jie settled down in Holland, and helped make the Dutch team a competitive one in the women’s team event. Won the European Championship singles in 2002, and other titles, including the Thailand Open (2004, 2005), the Dutch Open (2003, 2008, 2011), and the silver medal at the China Open in 2006. She inspired the Dutch to the European Women’s Championship crown in 2006. European badminton will miss her when she retires.
Lee Hyun Il: Was good enough to get into the top-ten after making a comeback two years after he retired in 2008. Is part of the golden generation of post-2000 shuttlers who were very, very difficult to beat by younger challengers. Lee Hyun Il would’ve had greater success had he not belonged to the same generation as Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei. Still, the left-handed Korean had his successes, most famously against Lin Dan in an acrimonious final at the home Korea Open in 2008. As a youngster, helped win the Asian Games team gold for Korea against Indonesia in the final. Other notable titles include the 2003 Sudirman Cup, 2005 Indonesia Open, 2008 German Open, and several others.
Boonsak Ponsana: A tricky, clever strokeplayer, Ponsana recently won the Singapore Open Superseries against China’s big hope Wang Zhengming – eight years younger than him. Ponsana belongs to a rare breed of shuttlers who value skill and deception over power. The Thai has been languishing outside the top-20, but is still a dangerous player – as Zhengming discovered. Ponsana has two major victories – both at the Singapore Open – but more importantly, has held the flag aloft for Thailand for over a decade. Thailand doesn’t yet have a young men’s singles player to replace him, and his retirement – when it eventually happens – will hurt.
Nova Widianto: Although his active career is over, still plays as a scratch partner with the younger Vita Marissa. Widianto has been a great warrior for Indonesian badminton, in the company of Lilyana Natsir. The two have won several major titles, including the World Championships (2005 and 2007), the All England, and a silver at the Olympics in 2008. Lilyana now plays with Tontowi Ahmad, and although they won the All England this year, Tontowi doesn’t quite have the skill or the trickery of Widianto.