Talk of China and badminton and most fans will see one name flash across their minds: ‘Lin Dan’. The Chinese great is so accomplished that he has become synonymous with his country’s badminton exploits. At the London Olympics, Lin Dan once again reaffirmed his record as the greatest contemporary men’s singles player.
But the greatness of one person often overshadows that of his contemporaries. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that while global attention is focussed on Lin Dan, the same cannot be said of his equally illustrious teammates, Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng. At the London Olympics, the men’s doubles pair finally achieved the one title that has eluded them all along: the Olympic gold; and in the process, can surely be called the greatest men’s doubles team of this generation.
What a record the two have built over the years! With four World Championships crowns in the last five events, two All England titles, and several Thomas, Sudirman and other crowns won many times over, Cai and Fu built up an enviable record. They missed out on Olympic glory on home turf at Beijing to the Indonesian pair of Markis Kido/ Hendra Setiawan. It’s an anomaly they addressed in grand style at London.
The one pair that might have thwarted their plans were the Koreans: Jung Jae Sung and Lee Yong Dae. However, in the semifinals, the Koreans – who have a positive record over the Chinese – weren’t at their best against the Danish combination of Mathias Boe/Carsten Mogensen and were made to pay the price. The lanky Danes took on the Chinese, and Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng had little trouble in countering the attacking game of the Danes. The Olympic gold was the last piece missing in their collection, and Cai and Fu celebrated wildly at Wembley Arena.
“This is the exact result we aimed for,” said Cai, 32. “We have been playing together for over 10 years, and have entered the Olympics three times. Last time in Beijing we only achieved silver, and we were regretful.”
Reflecting on their relatively poor show after Beijing, Cai said: “After failure, we were more mature. We were not afraid of failure, we tried to enjoy it. We were not scared at all, not nervous. Part of the reason we won was we were full of confidence.”
Before the Olympics, the two had acknowledged the importance of winning the Olympic gold. “The Olympic Games take place once every four years, unlike most championships that are held annually, so that fuels every athlete’s desire to win an Olympic Games medal,” said the right-handed Cai Yun to BWF. “For us especially, we have won all the major titles in the sport except the Olympic Games, so to win the Olympic gold would be the perfect conclusion of our career together.” The hint that this could be their last Olympics made the event assume added importance in the eyes of all fans.
Greatness is often realized in context. In the case of Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng, that context is provided by their great rivalry with Korean stars Lee Yong Dae and Jung Jae Sung. Matches between the two pairs are the stuff of contemporary legend, often showing us the heights to which the doubles game can be played. These are matches that have gone one way or other on the minutest of errors or the slimmest of margins; equally, they are exhibitions of astounding skill, power and athletic ability. It’s unfortunate that the two pairs couldn’t meet in the Olympic finals, but Cai and Fu – already a super-achieving pair – have demonstrated that they are a pair without equal, having conquered their final frontier in London.