Olympics Throwback: Reliving the greatest rivalry in badminton - Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei

Lee Chong Wei (left) and Lin Dan
Lee Chong Wei (left) and Lin Dan

Chinese great Lin Dan and Malaysian legend Lee Chong Wei have set their legacy in stone with their memorable on-court achievements. Hailing from two Asian powerhouse nations in badminton, former ace shuttlers Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei are dually responsible for extending the dominance of China and Malaysia in the sport.

Quickly filling up the gap left by Indonesian great Taufik Hidayat and Danish badminton star Peter Gade, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei carved out a place for themselves in the world of badminton. With as many as 40 memorable career clashes to their name, 3-time World Championships silver medalist Lee Chong Wei and 5-time World Champion Lin Dan have gone down the annals of badminton history as two of the greatest players.

Staying toe to toe with each other on the tour, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei forged an intense rivalry on the Olympic courts as well - having contested against each other in 3 consecutive Olympics. While the cross-court smash-hitting Chong Wei had to retire from his decorative badminton career in 2019 owing to nose cancer, the lithe and aggressive Super Dan hung up his racquet in 2020, thus marking the end of an era.

Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei's rivalry is one for the ages

Lee Chong Wei (left) and Lin Dan
Lee Chong Wei (left) and Lin Dan

Call it heroics, call it sheer talent - both Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, with their explosive yet starkly different game styles spun magic in each of their inevitably feisty encounters. Savoring their top-tier positions on the BWF list, both Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei have gone up against each other in 22 finals and 15 semifinals.

While the strands of similarity bear stark resemblance to that of the greatest rivalry in tennis between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; in badminton, it is Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan who make for perfect parallels. Interestingly, even Federer and Nadal have clashed 40 times till date, with Nadal edging the Swiss, 24-16. Similarly, it has always been the Chinese, Lin Dan who has had the last word on the majority of occasions against Lee Chong Wei, with a 28-12 head-to-head in his favor.

Let's take a look at the Olympic clashes between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei:

Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei - 2008 Beijing Olympics Final

Lin Dan
Lin Dan

Overcoming quite a few obstacles, Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei raced into his first-ever Olympic final at Beijing in 2008. After surviving a scare against South Korea's Lee Hyun-il in the semifinal, Wei set up a date with his arch-nemesis Lin Dan in the final.

Entering the gold medal match a little spent up, Lee Chong Wei struggled to find his footing in this clash and Lin Dan proved to be all-too powerful, rising to the occasion gloriously. Handing a straight-game defeat to the Malaysian, 21-12, 21-8, Lin Dan took home his first-ever Olympic gold.

Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei - 2012 London Olympics Final

One of the most memorable Olympic finals in recent badminton history, the 2012 London Olympics clash between Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan was apical in quality. On this occasion, Lee Chong Wei was not willing to let go of the gold easily.

Perhaps Lee Chong Wei's fate, when it comes to grand matches, has always been jinxed. Despite being one of the greatest players, Chong Wei has always been 'so close yet so far' and the 2012 final is another painful reminder of that. Stretching over three incredibly tight games, Chong Wei was the first to draw blood, winning the first game before Dan bagged the next, pushing the match into a decider. Chong Wei and Dan were tied at 19-all in the deciding game, both two points away from clinching gold. It was again Dan who succeeded in taking the lead and indeed the gold, 15-21, 21-10, 19-21.

Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei - 2016 Rio Olympics Semifinals

Lee Chong Wei
Lee Chong Wei

In their third and final consecutive meeting at an Olympics, Lee Chong Wei clashed with his arch-rival Lin Dan in the semi-finals at Rio. Eager to turn the tables at the quadrennial mega sporting extravaganza, Lee Chong Wei entered the semifinals all guns blazing.

Lee Chong Wei, miraculously, was able to undo the jinx on this occasion, as he handed the mighty Chinese a defeat and stopped his gold quest. Lin Dan got off on a strong footing, winning the first game, 21-15, but Chong Wei shifted up a gear to take the next game, 21-11. Moving into the deciding third game and a battle of nerves, Chong Wei endured to seal the thriller, 21-15, 21-11, 22-20 and sailed into his third consecutive Olympic final. Sadly, Lee Chong Wei still couldn't get his hands on the yellow metal as reigning Olympic champion, China's Chen Long, did not allow Chong Wei to fulfill his Olympic gold dream.

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Edited by Prem Deshpande
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