Four years later, it was Beijing all over again – Lin Dan flinging his arms in ecstatic triumph; Lee Chong Wei sinking to his knees in agony.
With this victory, Lin Dan has done what no other men’s singles players has – winning two Olympic gold medals in the event.
Anyone at Wembley Arena today could have been forgiven for thinking they were temporarily transported back to the 2008 Olympics badminton Men’s Singles finale in which the Chinese superstar reveled in his hometown victory over his Malaysian archrival.
However, persons who saw both showdowns will quickly affirm that these finals were poles apart in character. Today there was all the heart-stopping suspense that badminton at its best can conjure up; both finallists sweating and pacing nervously between each point – while Lin Dan barely broke a sweat in a 21-12, 21-8 rout at the previous Olympics.
This afternoon, before the most animated of crowds, the defending champion was made to work for almost every point, straining sinews and muscles in the pursuit of retaining his Olympic title. In fact, he was a mere two points from defeat in the third game but mental toughness and the sheer will to win pulled him through while Lee – despite a valiant effort – wilted under the pressure and weight of expectation.
The score – ultimately 15-21 21-10 21-19 in “Super” Dan’s favour – is not enough to tell the tale of this titanic battle which swung one way and then the other, carrying spectators on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
From the opening point, every change in score was met with loud roars from the packed venue. It was incredible to see how Lee and Lin retrieved shots which would have been unplayable for other shuttlers. It was clear they were drawing the best from each other.
The Malaysian held the early upper hand through accuracy and sharper net play but was helped to the finish line in the first game by his opponent’s unforced errors. The Chinese was deft at saving a lot of shots, focused on strategy and stringing points together, rather than net gamesmanship. In the blink of an eye, Lin had leveled the match a game apiece.
It was truly a see-saw battle and 77 minutes later it careened towards an unbearably nerve wracking conclusion; with no more than two points ever separating badminton’s top two. Lee progressed to 19-17 and, with Malaysian flags fluttering wildly in the audience, looked ready to close out the match. However, Lin Dan – playing like a man possessed – suddenly rocketed past his nemesis, finding himself at match point. He wasted no time in converting it – though victory was achieved by a Lee shot that fell beyond the back court.
Dropping his racket to the floor, Lin Dan set off on a dizzying run, holding his arms wide in celebration.
“Retaining the title I first earned in Beijing was not easy. There were so many tough challenges in these past four years. I’m very glad I’m able to keep the gold,” declared the 28-year-old, two-time gold medallist.
Heart-broken Lee Chong Wei – who recuperated superbly from ankle surgery to take silver for his nation – paid tribute to his opponent’s great achievement.
“There are many good players like Peter Gade, Taufik Hidayat but there is only one Lin Dan. He is a fantastic player, a very strong rival and also a very good friend,” noted the 29-year-old.
“It’s very disappointing to come second to Lin Dan twice in a row but Lin Dan is a very fair player and I respect him highly. This result only means I have to work harder.”
Earlier in the day, Chen Long of China snatched the bronze medal 21-12 15-21 21-15 from Korea’s Lee Hyun Il. Chen is the only player capable of smashing from full court and it was the only weapon that Lee could not defend against and he ultimately placed fourth again as he did in Beijing.
Announcing his retirement at the post-match Press conference, the 32-year-old Korean said he had prepared diligently for the Olympics and he had no regrets.