Lee Chong Wei is making anxious progress in a race against time to be ready for the climax to his great career at the Olympics.
Lee, who has recently lost the world number one ranking to bitter rival Lin Dan after four years at the top, has been receiving stem cell treatment on torn ankle ligaments, which means he may not be at his absolute best when the Games start.
The brilliantly fleet-footed Malaysian passionately wants that gold, both to improve on the silver medal he won in Beijing four years ago, and to get the better of Lin at last in a major event.
However, after being ushered off in a wheelchair during the Thomas Cup finals in Wuhan in May, Lee only has the rest of July in which to rebuild the strength and movement to cope with the sensational Lin, the Olympic and world champion from China.
Back in training
Lee was back in light training soon after his treatment but missed the $650,000 Indonesian Open.
“Naturally he will still have the fear of aggravating the injury but I will help him overcome it,” Malaysian Sports Institute physio Sandra Fidler said.
Lin Dan’s comments were generous.
“We are long-time competitors, but our biggest enemy is not each other, but injury,” he said.
“As his competitor, I wish him to come back to the court as quickly as possible.”
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Lin saved two match points while beating Lee in perhaps the greatest ever World Championship final, at Wembley last year, and is now considering extending his career after saying he will retire at the Olympics.
However, Lee has avoided admitting that Lin, his barrier for more than six years, is the greatest player ever, as many people believe.
He preferred to suggest the accolade may belong to one of two retired world champions from China, Yang Yang and Zhao Jian-hua, or to Peter Gade, the former world number one from Denmark, who has been among the front runners for a record-breaking 17 years.
The 35-year-old Gade believes he can do well again because Olympic success depends so much on temperament.
“At some point you learn how to deal with pressure,” he said. “I’m an old guy now, so I’ve got that experience.”
Gade has had a moderate run-up to the Olympics and, after an early loss to South Korea’s Shon Wan Ho at the Indian Open in Delhi, fell from the world’s top four. He claims he paid a price for pushing his body hard to qualify. This may result in his getting a tougher quarter-final opponent, possibly affecting his chances in the last major tournament of his career.
Gade’s setback has enabled former world champion Chen Jin to cling to the world number four ranking, thus guaranteeing China a maximum three qualifiers. The others are Lin, now ranked one, and Chen Long, three.
China also has the maximum in the women’s singles, with a trio of Wangs – Wang Yihan, Wang Xin and Wang Shixian – occupying the top three world ranking positions.
If an unexpected threat to China’s women’s monopoly is to emerge, it might come from Saina Nehwal, the Commonwealth champion from India, or Tine Baun, the former world number one from Denmark.
However the world’s most powerful badminton nation is top seeded in all three doubles events as well, and in four of the five events altogether, with Lin Dan an unofficial favourite in the fifth.
No nation has yet won all five badminton gold medals. However this time it looks very possible, China having captured all five titles in the last two World Championships.