Michael Jordan. Roger Federer. Muhammed Ali. Tiger Woods.
Lin Dan could join the echelons of sporting greats with a victory on August 5 in Wembley Arena. Regardless of badminton’s stigma as a minority sport – especially in Europe, Lin Dan’s achievements transcend his sport with the magnitude of his success. A superstar in his native China, he is already a 4-time world champion and reigning Olympic champion but he plays for something that no player before him can boast nor claim.
Retaining his Olympic title will make him an immortal of the sport and he will become the benchmark of what can be achieved within badminton. His victory in Beijing four years ago was shrouded in controversy before the Olympics began. A bust-up with his national coach; Ji Xinpeng had fans and media questioning his selection for the 2008 Olympics.
The bust-up was over practice matches and Lin Dan’s thirst for success, even in training. His attitude and outbursts divided fans of the sport, with some claiming he was simply spoiled in China, although he was revered as a sporting superstar for a population of over one and a half billion.
His “bad boy” status within the game has always received mixed appraisals but in Beijing four years ago, he produced one of the single greatest performances the sport had ever seen. He played with arrogance and with an aura of the best player in the world, in his home nation with almost a quarter of the world’s population hoping for a Chinese gold.
What he provided in the final was an absolute master class. All of his antics off the court forgotten for one night when he destroyed Lee Chong Wei 21-12, 21-8 in the most one-sided of their 29 matches. He could have gone into the second game interval 11-0 up if not for a careless cross net shot clipping the cord.
His salute upon victory to all four corners of the capacity stadium was a symbol of being a solider of his nation, China but also for the crowd to accept who he was – a player that thrives on success. He would do anything to succeed whether it was the right or wrong way to conduct himself.
Immortality would be assured with a gold medal in London but defeat would paint a different picture. It is known that anyone could beat any other person on any given day. Even the great Lin Dan is mortal and could be defeated. Defeat would open up the subject of who is the greatest player in the world. Rightly or wrongly, at this point, if the Malaysian Lee Chong Wei was to win gold in London, then he too would have to be considered.
Recent times have seen a change in Lin Dan. Instead of rackets or a punch being thrown, his shirt has been thrown into the crowd, for example at the Thomas Cup in May or at Beijing four years previously. The calming influence of his wife, Xie Xingfang has been credited with his change in temperament.
Lin Dan will make the trip to Shaoshan to pray for the legendary Chinese leader – Mao Zedong’s blessing. In 2004, before the Athens Olympics, he took this trip for granted, choosing to remain in the team bus playing cards. He then promptly lost in the opening round. Learning this valuable lesson, he is now one of the first Chinese Olympians to seek the blessing of Mao Zedong.
Some feel it is perhaps a blessing to have such a player in our lifetimes, whilst others claim he is a spoilt child blessed with a gift. He will arrive in London with countless nicknames, one half of the “Condor Couple” with Xie Xingfang, “Super Dan”, Lieutenant Colonel in the People’s Liberation Army, world number 1 and also favourite for the title in London.
His only wish is for one name, 2012 Olympic Champion.
Immortality will follow soon after.