Rivalry (noun) – competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field
Nemesis (noun) – the inescapable or implacable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall
A sporting rivalry occupies a unique place in the minds of sports fans. It gives an added edge to the contest and provides a story within a story in the context of the game’s end result.
A rivalry in an individual sport is all the more special; there’s one and only one person around whom the entire show revolves. There are no teammates around, no different positions, no main actor or side actors. The man/woman at the centre of proceedings receives the highest accolade in victory and the most exasperated gasps in defeat.
Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan bring that special intensity to a badminton match, just the way Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal do when they line up across the net to face each other in the final of a Grand Slam, or Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier did when they went head-to-head in their heydays.
Malaysia’s Chong Wei is the World No. 1 player in men’s badminton. Barring a temporary shift down to No. 2, he has been at the head of the rankings for the vast majority of the last five years. It was at the start of this five-year period that he usurped his great rival and nemesis, Lin Dan of China, in these very rankings.
Lee is one of the most successful shuttlers to have ever played. Here is a man who has 48 titles to his name and another 25 second place finishes. He has won numerous awards, including the prestigious BWF Player of the Year award three years in a row from 2009 to 2011.
Since he burst on to to the stage, Lee has been racking up Super Series title wins by the truckload and has won most of the prestigious events in the badminton calendar including the All England championships.
Yet, there remain some key elements missing from his repertoire of accomplishments – namely the World Championship Gold and the Olympic Gold. In badminton, success in these two competitions represents the ultimate zenith for a player. And one man has stood in the way of Lee Chong Wei, preventing him from achieving ultimate greatness.
Enter Lin Dan!
If there ever was a superstar in badminton, it would have to be Lin Dan. The sport has had its legends, great winners and competitors in the past. But Lin carries something of a rockstar following with an army of delirious fans. He is a two-time Olympic champion, a four-time world champion, a five-time All England champion and is the most accomplished badminton player ever.
Lin is already considered to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) by many; by the age of 28, Lin had completed the ‘Super Grand Slam’, having won all nine majors in world badminton – the Olympic games, World Championships, World Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup, Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games and Asian Championships.
In the process, he became the first player to achieve this feat and is the only one to date who has managed it. It is for a reason that his legion of fans call him ‘Super Dan!’
The 50 singles titles aside, he has played a starring role as the proverbial thorn in the flesh in Lee Chong Wei’s ascent to greatness. The pair has met a total of 30 times with Lin leading the head-to-head record 21-9.
Not only that, he has gotten the better of Lee in every Olympic and World Championship clash that they have had. While Lee has been able to beat Lin in finals of the Super Series events, he has found him a peak too tough to scale in these competitions.