The retirement of Peter Gade on Friday brings a close to one of the most remarkable careers in badminton.
The 35-year-old’s career encompassed different eras. Beginning his junior international career in the mid-1990s, he made a rapid transition to the seniors, winning the All England in 1999 and finishing runner-up at the World Championships in 2001. He also won four Olympic bronze medals, five European Championships and ten Copenhagen Masters, apart from a vast number of titles across the world. He was as successful in the 21×3 system as in the 15×3, remaining in the top-ten for practically his whole career.
After losing to younger compatriot Jan O Jorgensen in the quarterfinals of the French Open on Friday, Gade announced on his Facebook page: “Well, tonight at Stade De Coubertin was the time and place for ending my tournament career in the world of badminton… I could think of no better place to do this, and even though I lost my match against my compatriot, Jan Jørgensen 21-18 17-21 15-21, I enjoyed every second on court. Of course I’ve had many feelings go through my mind before and after the match but I feel good about ending this way. It would have been nice to win the match today and actually I had chance to do so, but in the end, what mattered to me was to say goodbye in a good way and I did.”
Gade was a sight. He was wonderfully fluid on court, and astonishingly swift. His jump smash had a unique stamp upon it, and his all-round abilities helped him win titles around the world. He was perhaps seen as the inheritor of Morten Frost’s legacy, as Europe’s big hope against Asian domination. As the years went by, he became a sort of senior statesman for the sport – its best ambassador. One of his great contributions to badminton would be in demonstrating how a 35-year-old could keep pace with far younger opponents, and yet remain in the top-ten, while all his contemporaries had retired long ago.
I’ve never seen Gade dismiss a question, or refuse an interview. Even after some disappointing defeats, he would haul himself up and present himself – and he was unfailingly courteous. He was also gracious towards opponents when he lost. I once asked him the ‘secret’ of his longevity and he put it bluntly: “Hard work. I work very hard each day.”
In a badminton world populated by players who barely express themselves, he was a breath of fresh air. Equally popular in Asia and Europe, his views were doubtless taken seriously by all those who follow the game – and it’s hard to think of a replacement. Nobody in world badminton has quite the stature that he has when it comes to expressing issues on the game. He will be missed.