Lee Chong Wei: "My obsession with Lin Dan made me the player I was."

Three-time Olympic badminton silver medallist confesses that his rivalry with Lin Dan helped push him to greater heights.

"Lin Dan was constantly in my head." –Lee Chong Wei

Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan are by far two of the most dominant badminton players across three generations.

The duo faced off 40 times through their careers with Lin having the advantage over the Malaysian with a head-to-head record of 28–12.

From their very first duel at the Thomas Cup Asia Preliminaries in 2004 to their final match at the 2018 All England Open quarter-finals, Lee and Lin have mesmerised the badminton world with their on-court skills that are in a league of their own. So much so, the period between 2006 and 2016, when both players were in their prime, has been likened as the Lin-Lee era.

Fans have long been split over who the better player is.

Lee, who announced his retirement from the sport in 2019 after undergoing treatment for nose cancer, recently revealed that he regards China's Lin Dan as the greatest badminton player ever.

Chong Wei Lee of Malaysia embraces Dan Lin of China after beating him at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Chong Wei Lee of Malaysia embraces Dan Lin of China after beating him at the Rio 2016 Olympic GamesChong Wei Lee of Malaysia embraces Dan Lin of China after beating him at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Chong Wei's obsession kept him on his toes

The Malaysian, like many people all around the world, has been staying at home during the Coronavirus pandemic.

And like many of us, he has been joining live sessions on social media. During one such session, the question of who is the greatest was posed to him and the 37-year-old replied, "You have to say it's Lin Dan."

"He's a legend. His titles speak for themselves. We have to salute him," Lee explained.

Silver medallist Chong Wei Lee of Malaysia and Gold medallist Dan Lin of China in the Men's Singles Final during the 2010 Asian Games
Silver medallist Chong Wei Lee of Malaysia and Gold medallist Dan Lin of China in the Men's Singles Final during the 2010 Asian GamesSilver medallist Chong Wei Lee of Malaysia and Gold medallist Dan Lin of China in the Men's Singles Final during the 2010 Asian Games

The three-time world silver medallist also credited his rival to helping him reach the heights that he did in the sport.

Lee admitted to being almost "obsessed" with the notion that he had to be better than the five-time world champion, who beat him in the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic finals.

"Lin Dan was constantly in my head when I got back to training after every loss. I knew if I wanted to win important tournaments, I had to beat him. I couldn't relax," Chong Wei shared.

"Even when I was cramping up, I told my coach I wanted to continue training because Lin Dan was waiting for me. I was thinking about him all the time."

The Malaysian had originally planned to continue playing until Tokyo 2020, but was diagnosed with early-stage nose cancer in 2018 and immediately underwent treatment.

Eventually, the 69-time BWF tournament winner announced his retirement in June 2019 after consulting with his doctors. And that brought an end to one of the greatest rivalry sagas the world of badminton has ever known.

During the live session, Lee confirmed that he has made a full recovery and was currently in good health.

He now lives in Kuala Lumpur with his wife, Wong Mew Choo (who is a fellow badminton Olympian and a Commonwealth Games gold medallist), and their two kids Kingston and Terrance.

And even though he's left his competitive sport behind him, Lee can't help but mention his nemesis in his social posts, most recently during his eldest son's seventh birthday.

Lee was recounting the year Kingston was born and how that fired up his motivation as he came to the brink of clinching the world championship, only to be denied the title, once again, by Lin Dan.

"My mind and heart only wanted to win it for Kingston. But my body was pushed to its limit after a match I thought was one of the best games Lin Dan and I battled." - Lee Chong Wei

View this post on Instagram

April 12th my elder son’s @kingstonleekc birthday. His seventh birthday. A blink of an eye, seven years passed just like that. Still remember the day he was born when I saw his head popping out from wife’s tummy, I can never describe that feeling correctly ( he is a c-sec baby ). I cried. That moment I realized how great was Mew Choo carrying him for 10 months. And that moment too I realized that I’m no longer living for myself, I became a father. And in that same year, his arrival drove my determination to play better. I think I did pretty well. And was even on the brink of winning the world title. My mind and heart only wanted to win it for Kingston. But my body was pushed to it limit after a match I thought was one of the best games Lin Dan and I battled. I couldn’t even lift my leg at 20-17 at rubber game. Kingston has entered primary school since. Just like me last time, he loves his Nintendo games. He loves Mario and forces his younger brother to use Luigi . Happy birthday son. Mommy , daddy and everyone loves you . 7年前的今天,大儿子李嘉谦Kingston Lee来到我的生命里,从此我多了一个名字叫爸爸;一眨眼7年过去了,虽然我们现在还在行动管制令期间,不能出去庆祝你的7岁生日,但是在这个特别的日子,我们全家人依然用心为你准备蛋糕庆祝生日,希望你健康平安开心一生。你永远是爸爸妈妈心目中那个永远长不大的孩子,就像当初第一次见到你的模样,一切历历在目。爸爸妈妈爱你❤️🎂

A post shared by Datuk Wira Lee Chong Wei (@leechongweiofficial) on

Slower pace of life

After years of dedicating his life to sport. Lee is now able to put his feet up and enjoy life a little.

The veteran, whose career spanned over 19 years, has since been named as the chef-de-mission for the Malaysian contingent to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

He also seems to be enjoying his days being a dad, and has been sharing a badminton trick or two with his sons as they played in their living room during the lockdown.

Coaching on the cards?

For a player with such talent as Lee, it would be a shame for Malaysia if he were to completely disappear into retirement.

However, Malaysia's coaching director Wong Choong Hann believes that Lee could still play a role in the future of the country's badminton scene.

"He has the whole charisma and status of the great badminton players... and he can definitely contribute a lot." the three-time Olympian told us.

Wong, the first Malaysian to win a men's singles medal at the badminton world championships, also believes that Lee has the right qualities to make a good coach, calling him "the reference point in terms of understanding of badminton as a sport, as a game."

Wong Choong Hann believes Lee Chong Wei has part to play in Malaysia's badminton future

Wong Choong Hann believes Lee Chong Wei has part to play in Malaysia's badminton future

For Lee's fans, they would like nothing more than to see their hero help mould the next great badminton talent from Malaysia.

And Wong hinted that they might actually see their wish come true.

"I think in some unofficial ways, yes. He's always very much willing to share his experience with the players whenever he visits the training scene." Wong told Olympic Channel.

"And I think, yes, his heart still beats with the badminton tone."

Enjoyed this story? Share it with your friends!