London - He bent down, but the shuttlecock landed at another spot on the court which was not far from the Dane – just like the distance between him and the Olympic podium.
Thursday saw the final show of this 35-year-old badminton player. Amid thunderous applause from as many as 6,500 people, the tall and wiry man waved, bidding farewell to the Olympic arena, as well as an era, reports Xinhua.
Gade began to take interest in badminton at the age of six. He became so fascinated with the sport that he started playing badminton in his bedroom, placing his toy boxes in front of the wall to act as a net. He volleyed a ping pong ball against the wall, sometimes for up to an hour and a half.
He carved out his career in 1994 after winning the men’s doubles title in the World Youth Championships, topping the world men’s rankings from 1998 to 2001.
For two decades, seeing Chinese shuttlers come and go, from Dong Jiong to Xia Xuanze to Lin Dan, Gade was on his lonely crusade.
During the course, he bagged five European Championship golds, an All-England title as well as a silver and four bronze medals in World Cups, but the Olympic crown seemed always elusive.
It seemed a jinx to him that during his previous three Olympics, he always had early encounters with the champion of that year.
In 2000, he was edged out by China’s Ji Xinpeng in Sydney in the semi-finals, and four years later, Indonesian prodigy Taufik Hidayat sent him home in the quarterfinals. In Beijing, the ill-fated veteran met China’s Lin Dan, also in the quarterfinals.
In retrospect, he said: “It’s been a great experiences to take part in the Olympics as part of the Danish Olympic team. It was a special moment to play Lin Dan in the quarterfinals in Beijing 2008. I played a great match but he was just so good. It’s my best memory from the Games.”
But in fact, he craved the gold medal just as 12 years ago.
“I will try one last time to push my body and mind to the limits to get the best result possible,” he said. “I will enjoy being part of the Danish Olympic team one last time, of course. I’m at the end of my career and I know I need every element to peak to get a medal, but I’ll try.”
In the Wembley Arena in west London, he impressed audiences with two wonderful matches. He first beat Pedro Martins from Portugal 21-14, 21-8, and then outplayed world No.13 Son Wan Ho from South Korea 21-9, 21-16.
But he was apparently not confident about winning the gold.
“I know there are obvious favourites and I know I’m not one of them,” he said. “I’m the old guy in this game. I’ll use my experience and what’s left in my bag.”
Thursday, when in the quarterfinals the world No.5 player met China’s Chen Long, who is 12 years younger than him, the difference of age was clear. He appeared slower in both defence and attack, losing 16-21, 13-21 in what is his last Olympic match.
“He was keeping me away from options all the time,” he said after the game, in disappointment. “I wanted to play with more pace. I had some chances in the second game but didn’t keep the pressure up.”
But Gade enjoyed the game anyway. “I’m proud of what I’ve done on and off the court,” he said. “The best thing is the feeling I’ve had inside for the whole tournament. It’s about pulling every resources out of my body.”
Chen Long was modest talking about the match. “I am young and more energetic, although he is definitely more experienced.”
Both China’s Lin Dan and Chen Long saluted Gade.
Describing him as “great”, Lin said that the old gun would be his next role model, while Chen said: “He tried his best in every match. We should all learn from him.”
Gade said he will retire at the end of this year.
“I’ve had trouble with my right ankle in the past five months. The first part of qualification was really good so I had to pay a price for that. I had to go down a bit. My body was telling me I’m not 20 anymore, I’m 35. I’m at the end of my career.”